clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Mars 'door handle' is likely just eroded rock, scientist says

New, 48 comments
Mars mystery object curiosity rover
Mars mystery object curiosity rover

A shiny-looking blob spotted on Mars sent the internet speculating that it could be metal or foreign, but it's likely just natural wind erosion at work on rocks on the Red Planet, according to a scientist affiliated with NASA's Curiosity rover mission.

The metallic-like object, which NASA notes looks like a "door handle," is actually consistent with smooth windblown stones found here on Earth. Antarctica and Norway have similarly textured rocks formed by wind erosion, University of Washington geochemist Ronald Sletten explains, in a new analysis of rover imagery.

These types of stones, called "ventifacts," develop multicolored surfaces and odd shapes — like the knotty protrusion on Mars — after they've been buffeted by windblown sand and other particles for years. The sandblasting erodes softer material within the rocks and polishes harder material, creating obvious and sometimes jarring physical variations within the same rock outcroppings.

Still, the mystery Mars object's exact makeup remains out of reach: The Curiosity rover has since driven on to another location to conduct drilling samples, and NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) team, which is in charge of the rover, didn't disclose any plans to revisit the mystery protrusion.

"The MSL science team offered this information in response to public interest about that image," NASA spokesman Guy Webster said in an email to The Verge.