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Rocks on Mars

A variety of different rock types have been found on Mars.

Mars Shaler Outcrop
This photograph was taken by NASA's Mars Rover Curiosity in 2012 using its mast camera. It shows a portion of an outcrop inside the Gale Crater. This view shows an area about one meter wide. The color has been balanced to make the scene look as if it were on Earth.

Visible in this image are rocks that are very similar to the shales found on Earth. They are fine-grained, thinly layered and fissile (meaning they easily break into thin sheets). Rocks on Earth that break this way are usually made up of clay minerals or mica grains that settled out of an aqueous suspension. Their plate-shaped grains deposited on the bottom in a parallel orientation. This gives the rock the ability to be split into thin layers. Clay minerals are known to be abundant on Mars, so it is likely that these rocks are composed of clay minerals.

Martian impact craters are a great place to observe rocks because the impact blasted a hole in the planet's surface with outcrops exposed in the crater walls. In this scene, large amounts of fine-grained sediments can be seen covering the ground. Sediments on the surface of Mars are a product of millions of years of asteroid impacts and mechanical weathering. They are reworked by the wind today, and in the past, they were moved, deposited, and reworked by flowing water. Image by NASA. Enlarge image. [1]

Mars Conglomerate Outcrop
This photograph on the left was taken by NASA's Mars Rover Curiosity in 2012 using its mast camera. It shows a portion of an outcrop of a rock similar to the conglomerates found on Earth. The pebbles below the rock are clasts that have been weathered from the rock. The photo on the right is a conglomerate outcrop from Earth to show similarity.

The presence of conglomerate and sandstones on Mars is evidence of moving water. Wind is not strong enough to pick up pebbles over one centimeter in diameter and carry them along in the current. The pebbles in this rock show a high level of rounding which implies a significant distance of transport. The red color is thought to be iron staining, which is nearly ubiquitous on Mars and gives it the name "Red Planet." The "cement" that binds the particles in these rocks could be a sulfate mineral. Image by NASA. Enlarge image. [2]

Mars Cross Bedding Outcrop
This is another photograph taken by NASA's Mars Rover Curiosity in 2012 using its mast camera in the Gale Crater. It shows a portion of an outcrop with a sedimentary structure similar to the cross-bedded sandstones found on Earth. When a sedimentary rock that was deposited in nearly horizontal layers has internal layering that is inclined at a different angle, the structure is known as "cross bedding." The large-scale layering in these rocks is inclined to the left; however, the smaller internal layers are inclined at various angles. Multiple angles of cross bedding reveal that the direction of wind or water flow changed over time. Image by NASA. Enlarge image. [3]

Columnar basalt
The image on the left was taken from above by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter near Marte Vallis. It shows an outcrop of a basalt flow with columnar jointing. The image on the right is a National Park Service photo of the most famous example of columnar jointing on Earth. It is of a basalt flow that outcrops in the Devil's Post Pile National Monument in California. Images by NASA and the National Park Service. [4]

Mars meteorite
This is a photo of the "Heat Shield Rock," the first meteorite ever discovered on the surface of another planet. It is a baseball-size iron-nickel meteorite discovered by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity in 2005. Opportunity used a spectrophotometer to determine its composition. Image by NASA. More meteorites from Mars. [5]

Mars scoria
This image shows a field strewn with pieces of a volcanic rock that are very similar to the scoria found on Earth. The rock in the foreground of the image is about 18 inches across and was found by the Sprit Rover. The rock has a rough surface and vesicles like scoria. Image by NASA. [6]

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Information About the Photos
[1] Wide View of 'Shaler' Outcrop, Sol 120: Image release posted on NASA's Curiosity Rover website, January, 2013.

[2] NASA Rover Finds Old Streambed on Martian Surface: Image release posted on NASA's Curiosity Rover website, September, 2012.

[3] 'Shaler' Unit's Evidence of Stream Flow: Image release posted on NASA's Curiosity Rover website, December, 2012.

[4] 'Honeycombs' and Hexacopters Help Tell Story of Mars: Article posted on NASA's Solar System website, February, 2012.

[5] Opportunity Rover Finds an Iron Meteorite on Mars: Article posted on NASA's Exploration Rovers website, January, 2005.

[6] Volcanic Bumpy Boulder on Mars: Astronomy Picture of the Day for May 15, 2006.

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