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NASA’s Curiosity rover spots a bed of Earth-like pebbles

Published Mar 26th, 2019 5:33PM EDT
mars pebbles
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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Most of the views of Mars we’ve seen have come from NASA’s trusty rovers, and while they’ve shown us some pretty stunning stuff, you can almost always immediately tell that you’re looking at a photo of Mars when you see one. The sky is almost always a hazy orange, and the landscape looks windswept and devoid of recognizable features.

One of the latest images sent back by the Curiosity rover does away with that by showing us a bed of pebbles that look like they could be sitting along a riverbed right here on Earth.

“NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity acquired this image using its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm,” NASA explains. The image was captured on March 24th.

There are a couple of interesting things to note about this photo. First, the tiny rocks are a pale off-white rather than a bold rusty orange like many other images we see of the planet’s surface. Mars’ terrain has a lot of variation in terms of color and we rarely get a chance to see that up-close like we can here.

Secondly you’ll notice smaller gray ball mixed in with the oblong pinkish pebbles. In the past, the strange, perfectly spherical shapes have led some to question whether we might be seeing leftovers of an ancient civilization — maybe even projectiles used in ancient conflicts.

NASA assures us all that this isn’t the case, and these “blueberries” as they are sometimes called are the result of a natural phenomenon called concretion. It’s what happens when minerals begin to gather in water-soaked rocks, eventually hardening. When the softer outer portion of the rock erodes due to wind or other natural processes, the harder spheres inside break free and erode at a much slower rate.

It’s a very cool image and it serves as a great reminder that despite being separated by an incredible distance, Mars and Earth are actually very similar.