Just rocks..?

Posting this here because I think only the “rock hounds” among us will appreciate what I’m trying to say… :wink:

Time and time again I’ve read comments here, usually replying to someone’s “What is this?” Post, that said something along the lines of “they’re rocks” or, worse, “they’re just rocks”. It’s always grated with me, to be honest, because it’s been proof of how sometimes we forget – or worse – take for granted – the incredible achievements of Spirit, Opportunity, and the huge, mostly-invisible team behind them. Those two little rovers have beaten the odds every step of the way, when it seemed like not just the NASA hierarchy but the entire universe was against them.

Going on the past record of Mars-bound probes, they shouldn’t both have launched successfully and safely – but they did. They shouldn’t have reached Mars in working order – but they did. They shouldn’t both have landed safely, using largely untested technology – but they did. They shouldn’t both have survived their body-shattering bounces across the martian landscape – but they did. Spirit shouldn’t have even got half-way to the Columbia Hills, but she not only reached them, she climbed them, taking thousands of stunning images along the way, before standing proudly on the summit of Husband Hill and staring down at a magnificent Mars, a new Mars, the Mars that all of us will come to think of as “Our Mars”, more beautiful and dynamic and hypnotising than the Mars glimpsed by the Mariner, Viking or Pathfinder Generations that came before us. Opportunity shouldn’t have landed in a crater, with an exposed ridge of bedrock, but she did, and then she climbed out of the crater and travelled to others, exploring towering walls of ancient red stone that burned orange and scarlet in the martian sunset, as Earth burned like a blue lantern in the sky above…

Think of some of the sights the MERs have shared with us. The wind-rippled dust dunes on the floor of Endurance, shining orange and gold at dusk; dust devils swirling like dervishes across the Gusev plain, racing each other like the howling, phantom spirits of long-dead martians; Earth shining in the burning-blue sunset sky like a distant, magnesium flare; the endless dust-dune sea of Meridiani, its ripples, undulations and waves unbroken save for two lines of wheel tracks leading over the far horizon…

Yet we seem to take for granted, or dismiss, the less-glamourous, less front-page grabbing everyday images returned by Spirit and Oppy; the ones we skip over when scrolling through the Exploratorium website’s lists in pursuit of stunning new vistas or screaming dust devils. Every day we are sent images showing Mars’ rocks, boulders and stones, yet we dismiss these chunks, shards and fragments of basalt, breccia as “just rocks”, as if they’re not worthy of our time.

Well, maybe we shouldn’t be too dismissive, because it occurred to me the other day, while looking at one of the earliest Spirit images, taken just a few days after landing, that whenever we look at these “just rocks” we’re looking at history, both past history, and history in the making. "Past history" in that every one of those rocks was formed in an amazing way, and by studying them we will learn how Mars itself formed and developed.

History in the making? Well, yes, because one day, many of the rocks we’ve seen on the MER images will be as prized as the most famous meteorites, fossils or mineral specimens on Earth – or as prized as the most historic relics or antiquities. One day, the “just rocks” caught by the cameras of Spirit and Oppy will be sought after by collectors, there on Mars, or back here on Earth. They’ll be seen as pieces of “space memorabilia”, just like pieces of Skylab, space-flown first day covers or astronaut autographs. Collectors – or their agents – will trek across Mars, following the famous “Spirit Trail” or “Opportunity Path” searching for the largest rocks photographed by the rovers, such as Humphrey, Bounce and El Capitan. Maybe the 2100 Mars offices of the UN or the “Mars Immigration” organisation will have their intimidating foyers decorated with polished marble-like slabs of the Erebus Highway cut out of the Meridiani Plain…

Rocks “ratted” by the two rovers will be particularly highly prized. Small ones – small enough to be smuggled back to Earth in bags or cases – will fetch a lot of money, and end up on private display in offices, studies and museums. Larger specimens, too bulky to transport to Earth, will remain on Mars to be displayed in the museums that will inevitably be built to house the relics from the first Golden Age of Mars Exploration.

Feel any different about those “just rocks” now? Next time you look at a picture of the summit of Husband Hill, and see all those “just rocks” scattered about, think how, in a century’s time, people will be bounding over that very same summit, loading those rocks into bags and putting them up for sale on MarsBay, offering them to Terran collectors for money to go towards the astronomical cost of their ticket off Mars…

And they’re just the rocks we can see, or have seen or will see. Elsewhere on Mars, far away from the rovers and their unblinking eyes, are other rocks, much more important rocks. Rocks that will, themselves, make history.

Somewhere on Mars there is…

… a rock destined to be the first to be picked up off the surface of Mars, and held by a gloved, human hand. That rock – the First Rock - will be seen by billions of people back on Earth, photographed with the first man or woman on Mars’s fingers curled triumphantly and protectively around it…

…a rock destined to be the first stone thrown over the edge of Valles Marineris to bounce and ricochet off the great canyon’s countless sledges and spurs as it drops towards the canyon floor, far, far below… The astronaut who plucked it off the lip of the valley, and hurled it out into the abyss, will record the sounds of it cracking and smacking against other rocks on its way down, and will then peer over the edge of the canyon in the hope of seeing it land on the chasm floor with a Roadrunner cartoon-like puff of smoke. But, of course, they’ll see nothing, as the floor of mighty Marineris will be many miles beneath their feet…

… a rock destined to be the first to be sneaked home by an astronaut, and given in secret to their wife, husband, son or daughter, making them promise or swear never, ever to tell anyone about it…

… a rock destined to be the first to be carved into the first ever piece of “martian art” – a figurine, an animal, whatever, it won’t matter; what will matter is that it will mark the beginning of a new age on Mars – the age of Native Martian Culture…

And somewhere on Mars there are the first rocks that will be used to build the first native structures. Maybe they’ll just be rough, thrown-together walls or ramps, strictly practical, or an igloo-like shelter to protect lost astronauts against an unpredicted dust storm, but again it won’t matter. What will matter is that Man will have begun to exploit the natural resources and material of Mars – to live off the land in other ways than just breaking apart the gases of the air to make water and fuel.

Eventually walls or ramps won’t be enough, and Mars will have its own architects, men and women who, inspired by the Red Planet’s landscapes, skies and sounds will design then construct real buildings. Right now, on Mars, are the huge boulders and rocks that will be split apart, shaped and sculpted into the slabs that will be used to build Mars’s first houses, offices and churches -and, perhaps, in a far, far future, its first Atreiades-like palaces. Imagine how beautiful that red rock will be; bathed in the light of martian sunsets or sunrises they’ll shine and flare like gold… In a thousand years’ time tourists and pilgrims from Earth and the other inhabited worlds of the solar system will travel to Mars just to see Ares’ own Taj Mahal, Great Pyramids, Acropolis and Collisseum, and marvel at the skills and vision of their builders…

Of course, building isn’t reserved for adults; the first children of Mars, the first true “martians”, will build too, scampering around on the dusty surface, kicking up clouds of cinnamon-coloured fines as they hunt down rocks, stones and shards just the right size to use as building blocks for their fairytale castles. Maybe they’ll even make their own version of the building where the ship which carried the First Settlers on their historic journey to the new world was built – the legendary “VeeAybee” tower… :wink:

Not all of the “just rocks” are destined for such glorious use, of course. Mars has never given up its secrets without a fight, without some cost, and in years to come men and women will die on Mars, hundreds of millions of miles away from their homes and families. Many of them will be buried where they fell, buried inside makeshift, hand-built tombs of red, orange and tan rocks. It’s humbling to think that right now, sitting silently on Mars, are the rocks destined to be used to mark the grave of the first astronaut to die on Mars…

But most importantly, there’s a very good chance that right now, at this very moment, there’s also rock lying on Mars, half-covered in fines, which will change our view of the Universe, and our understanding of our place in it, in a heartbeat. One day in the future, when it is turned over – or cracked open – by an astronaut, or even a robot rover, that little rock will be shown to conceal or contain fossils of ancient native life-forms, proving once and for all that life evolved on Mars as well as Earth. That rock will be photographed ten thousand times, from every conceivable angle, before being packed carefully and lovingly into a protective casing and brought back to Earth, either by hand, or inside a sample return capsule. By the time it is unpacked in a clean room onboard the ISS, handled with all the reverence of an ancient religious relic, it will have become a global icon – the first solid proof that life on Earth wasn’t a fluke, it happened elsewhere too. That rock will scream at us “Life’s not an accident, it’s a process”, and it will suggest to us that we live in a universe teeming with life…

So, now Spirit has reached the true summit of Husband Hill, and is gazing down at the world far below, take a moment, please, to drag your attention away from the mountainous horizon and the genie-like dust devils, and instead look at the little “just rocks” lying around. John Muir said, when writing about the rocky landscapes of Yosemite…

"It is a vast wilderness of rocks in a sea of light, colored and glowing like oak and maple woods in autumn, when the sun gold is richest."

He could just as easily have been writing about Mars, don’t you think?

In Red Mars, Ann Clayborne says: "I think you value consciousness too high, and rock too little. We are not lords of the universe. We're one small part of it.”

Each rock on Mars is too, no matter how small or unremarkable-looking it is. Let’s not take them – or the fact that we can see new pictures of them, daily – for granted, and remember that one day this wonderful adventure will end. And it will be a long, long time until the next one begins.

Very eloquent Stu.

I too find rocks fascinating. I only post a fraction of the rock images I create.

Rocks have the same ultimate origin as we -- the stars.

I also made the observation in another post that biology is properly categorized as a planetary science -- subcategory geology.

We are all "rock stuff" too.

Thanks, Stu, nice post. I don't feel qualified to add to the scientific debates here, but I can empathize with your emotional debate! I lurk and enjoy, and am saddened when qualified posters opt out for reasons self-serving.

This mission has been mankind's second most comprehensive exploration of the surface of a celestial body. Only the moon landings beat the rovers, and only because they returned rocks. Surely, our little robots have explored more of Mars than our previous explorations of the moon.

Stu, our next missions are only a decade away - surely not too long a wait?

Beatifully written, Stu. No one should ever take for granted what we're seeing everyday from these little robots built by human hands. This is history in the making. We have extended our reach and made a small corner of an alien world hundreds of millions of miles away almost as familiar as our backyards......And this is only the beginning.

History is in the making:

Here's a few excerpts of abstracts for presentations at the Oct 16-19 meetings of the Geological Society of America. Anyone close to Salt Lake?


Here's a few blurbs about "just rocks":

"“Wooly Patch” is an outcrop having unique characteristics, investigated by the Mars Exploration Rover, Spirit, along the rover's traverse to the Columbia Hills. It is the softest rock abraded by the Rock Abrasion Tool at Gusev through sol 291. It shows hardened material at the edges of surface fractures, potentially involving cementation/deposition by fluid. "

"The rocks that compose the West Spur of Husband Hill have VNIR spectral features consistent with basaltic tuffs collected from terrestrial tuff cones. Rocks on Husband Hill... have spectral features consistent with a higher fraction of crystalline phases- in some instances highly altered. ... Implications and possible causes of this aqueous alteration will be discussed. The rover has also observed a number of erratic basaltic rocks...

"Spirit's arrival at Hank's Hollow on the plains of Gusev Crater, Mars signaled an important transition from the volcanic geology of the younger intercrater plains and the older rocks of the Columbia Hills. This transition was marked by the appearance of unusual rock surface weathering features not previously seen along Spirit's traverse. Of special interest are the rocks, “Pot of Gold”, “Bread Box” and a number of smaller unnamed rocks, all of which exhibited case hardened exteriors, with cavernously-weathered interiors. "

Here's an interesting presentation:
Students will use a digital elevation model (DEM) available through the NASA Planetary Data System Node to examine three sites where water likely flowed on Mars: Kasei Valles, Lucus Planum, and Margaritifer Terra. Each of these sites represents a different hydrologic environment: a developed stream system, a shoreline, and the site of chaotic flooding, respectively.

L257R1 of "just rocks" on Husband Hill summit:

Ooook. So what caused the nice smoothe surface texture on the otherwise rough fracture surface. Notice the different color too.

And don't get me started on all the other surface details.

The fill L257R1 1x3 panorama is here.

I spent some time looking at this and have no idea what I'm looking at on the fracture surfaces and in the cracks.

Horton, I see the smooth patch almost centered in the image, just above and right of center. It is easier to see in the original scale image. The smooth patch looks like it is superimposed on the rough texture visible on the surrounding rock. I would guess that it is caused by a particular form of life that serendiptously arrived here on the wind, survived and grew.

The smooth patch stands out in a place where most of the other rock surfaces are inhabited by another sort of life that causes them to develop rough parallel linear ridges and troughs, in response to the stronger prevailing winds here at the summit. Life and wind, both sun powered, are the big forces on the surface of Mars. The wind is a prime determinant of the climatic and microclimatic conditions that allow life to flourish. Dust delivery and removal may be particularly important climatic factors for life.

Well it may be a little speculative, but at least I have an answer to your question.

Is the circular area a RAT grind?

Finest post I have read here, Stu. You need a literary agent. Nice job!

Finest post I have read here, Stu. You need a literary agent. Nice job!

Just to the right of the smooth patch, does anyone besides me see a circular artifact?

an amazing phenomenon
nice articles
good job

Nice article, things have come along way since 2005 for the discovery's of Mars

Stu,,,,,,,,,,, don't stop now,, please.

The Secret of Life won the Arthur C. Clark and the Philip K. D. Awards,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Author,,, Paul McAuley 2001 year published,

I Think McAuley could have made a series with
this, barly 400 page tibit.

See the style of KSR with RGB Mars,,, seemed
very intelligent/data miner,, woman in space,,good writeing I felt.
10 out of TEN Stars

I think I may Reward my Local Library and request they buy the rest of the Robinson books.

The REAL Hardcore Science Fiction Reader/Buyer/Reviewer,, knows by instinct the
most powerfull writers,,, sometimes it is years before another Gifted author publishes.

So the reader has lean as well as rich rewards.

Thank God and the rest of the Team/Whoever,,
that I have consumed some very very good writing. In publishing a book/story, one is given to making the job hard.
If it don't come naturally,,, you end up with a Junuior High School level of,, writing
education. This appeals to many,,,at times.
NOT to me.I have a list of Subject and Authors, that I cannot waste time on. There are so many hours in the day. This is unchangeable.I notice that as I type the Spell Checker is coorecting (sometimes) as I type.

Software learns,,, pointless for it not to.

Soon we will, in one way or another, have people on Mars.
By Choice I am a Reader NOT a Writer.

I found the book (The Secret of Life),,,good
enough to read it (413 pages) in 10 hours.
Rather slow for me,, but it was only in the last quarter (of the book) that one tires of the repletion and skips sentences, paragraph's. Skimming, keywords, familiar enough with the characters to spot a new trend, yet still 'Caught up" in the great,, How will it end.

Not bad,,,,,, The Ending could have been better,, but more important the writer puts you on/in the scene, flawlessly. This is for the 10 out of 10.

Yes I shall ask that the rest of the KSR collection be ordered. I look forward to it.

This is a Merry Christmas e-mail to the Smithville Public Library,, Of which I am
Thankful beyond Description,40 (for me)
Years of reading many great Authors,,, because that is what it is in the end,,,

A few months ago my friendly Librarian Led me to the Hunger Games. Had a very nice week
reading these.

That I post this on the Mars Rover Blog,,
is in tribute to the Librarians of the Library. Awesome, exciting, young adults,
the crem de crem of Small Town Society,,
of which I am a spear carrier (or paper boy),to.

Written on the DAY OF Celebrating the Birth of
our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Think about it. Study it before you decide.

Google is your friend, the point I am making is all about immortality. You either get or
you do not.

But also I post for the betterment of communication to other fellow posters. Or
to put it simply LEARN TO READ. You will never be Lonely Again.

Merry Christmas