In my previous diary, On Mars: We Have Found an Interesting Rock
we discussed NASA's decision on the first target selected for "contact science", this rock that they named after a recently deceased esteemed colleague in the Mars rover programs, Jake Matijevic. As NASA was beginning this first of many such tests to come, I remarked that:
To my untutored eye, that rock screams "What the Hell am I doing here!" but I'm guessing that the scientists at the JPL have better informed opinions about why we should further investigate this particular lump of Mars. But these are serious scientists doing serious science. I am bracing myself for revelatory findings.
Here is a NASA image of Jake showing Jake after testing. The red dots are where the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument zapped it with its laser on Sept. 21, 2012, and Sept. 24, 2012, which were the 45th and 48th sol, or Martian day of operations. The circular black and white images were taken by ChemCam to look for the pits produced by the laser. The purple circles indicate where the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer trained its view.
When NASA had not yet released any results from the testing on Jake several days later, in the diary On Mars: A River Ran Through It, we mostly discussed NASA's announcement of the discovery of rock from an ancient riverbed. I also said by way of followup on the report about the contact science testing:
Back to the rock named Jake. A big lesson from today's press conference is the insight that this science team will announce no finding before its time. They have been looking at and debating what they think about outcrops of this aggregate rock since the mission first touched down at Bradbury landing, but today was the first we've heard about it. This suggests to me that the findings from the science done on Jake is still under review. That further suggests to me that the outcome might be more, rather than less interesting. I wasn't expecting to find out anything spectacular, but the delay makes me wonder.
It has been several weeks more, now, and NASA has finally released the results. Jake is a rare kind of rock well known to geologists, never before found on Mars in years of research by rovers, that, on Earth, is typically formed in the presence of water in places like Hawaii.
Ponder that a moment and then follow me out into the tall grass if you want to talk about it some more.
At first blush, the findings look both revelatory and spectacular. Much more is here on NASA's site, but I'll share some of the juicier bits:
"This rock is a close match in chemical composition to an unusual but well-known type of igneous rock found in many volcanic provinces on Earth," said Edward Stolper of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who is a Curiosity co-investigator. "With only one Martian rock of this type, it is difficult to know whether the same processes were involved, but it is a reasonable place to start thinking about its origin."
On Earth, rocks with composition like the Jake rock typically come from processes in the planet's mantle beneath the crust, from crystallization of relatively water-rich magma at elevated pressure.
Then, there is this reported by the Associated Press
Scientist Edward Stolper (STOHL'-pur) said the rock is more like rare volcanic rocks seen on Earth in places like Hawaii.
Blue Mars, baby. OK. I am way jumping the gun. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that clues of a warm watery past on Mars are accumulating, and all the mission has done so far is unlimber the instruments for their initial tests and cleanings. The first concentrated investigation and analysis begins in a few weeks at an unusual area formed by the confluence of three seemingly distinct types of rock formations. I see no reason not to hope and even expect that NASA will have even more confirmation of a much more Earth like Mars in the far past, or at least a wetter, warmer Mars.
Understanding how a planet can go from a state of having liquid water to an arid void having none seems something that it might be worthwhile for humans to learn. That is true if no evidence of life on Mars ever emerges.
Here are my previous diaries in this series inspired by NASA's new roving science lab on Mars, listed in the order I have posted them.
Mars Curiosity Rover -- Meet the ChemCam
Ray Bradbury is Honored Today on Mars
What Curiosity Can Do, Part 2.
What Curiosity Can Do on Mars and in this Election
Will Curiosity Mission Finally Vindicate the Life Science Results from the 1976 Viking Lander?
From Mars: SAM Takes a Deep Breath and Flexes his Arm
From Mars: Here's Looking At You, Kid.
On Mars: Super Rover has X-ray Vision
On Mars: Let the Science Begin
On Mars: We have found an Interesting Rock
On Mars: Obama and Biden Campaign This Week
On Mars: Curiosity Does Contact Science
On Mars: A River Ran Through It
On Mars: Sol 52 Update
On Mars: 2000 AD Space Robot Held Together with 2000 BC Technology
On Mars: Curiosity Stops to Do the Dishes
On Mars: One Scoop or Two
On Mars: NASA Briefly Distracted by Shiny Object