Grinding into Soft, Powdery Rock
This hole in a rock dubbed "Clovis" is the deepest hole drilled so far in any rock on Mars. NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit captured this view with its microscopic imager on martian sol 217 (Aug. 12, 2004) after drilling 8.9 millimeters (0.35 inch) into the rock with its rock abrasion tool. The view is a mosaic of four frames taken by the microscopic imager. The hole is 4.5 centimeters (1.8 inches) in diameter. Clovis is key to a developing story about environmental change on Mars, not only because it is among the softest rocks encountered so far in Gusev Crater, but also because it contains mineral alterations that extend relatively deep beneath its surface. In fact, as evidenced by its fairly crumbly texture, it is possibly the most highly altered volcanic rock ever studied on Mars.
Scientific analysis shows that the rock contains higher levels of the elements sulfur, chlorine, and bromine than are normally encountered in basaltic rocks, such as a rock dubbed "Humphrey" that Spirit encountered two months after arriving on Mars. Humphrey showed elevated levels of sulfur, chlorine, and bromine only in the outermost 2 millimeters (less than 0.1 inch) of its surface. Clovis shows elevated levels of the same elements along with the associated softness of the rock within a borehole that is 4 times as deep. Scientists hope to compare Clovis to other, less-altered rocks in the vicinity to assess what sort of water-based processes altered the rock. Hypotheses include transport of sulfur, chlorine, and bromine in water vapor in volcanic gases; hydrothermal circulation (flow of volcanically heated water through rock); or saturation in a briny soup containing the same elements.
In this image, very fine-grained material from the rock has clumped together by electrostatic attraction and fallen into the borehole.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/USGS
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