NASA's Perseverance rover took this selfie on the surface of Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Researchers Find Purple-Colored Rocks on Mars—Can’t Explain Their Existence

The purple coatings could be associated with ancient microbial life on Mars.

Why is Mars often referred to as the Red Planet? Because of the reddish dust that covers the entire surface of the planet, right? Well, here is something new – NASA’s Perseverance rover stumbled on a rather uncharacteristic color during its mission – it discovered purple rocks in almost all its research locations on Mars to date.


Purple rocks on Mars?

The Jezero Crater – Perseverance’s research zone – formed during a meteorite impact billions of years ago. Once upon a time, there was a lake, or at least, multiple discoveries suggest it. In almost a year on the surface, the rover discovered purple rocks of all shapes and sizes on numerous occasions. Yet, this is the first rover to uncover this strange phenomenon and researchers do not have a definitive explanation.

An explanation of the origin of the mysterious spots can give clues about the past of Mars, including the presence of life on it. Pigmentation could encode information about environmental conditions in its chemical and mineral composition. If this hunch is correct, then scientists will be able to reconstruct an environment that has long been gone.

The purple rocks can also be considered as evidence of life on Mars, as some microbes on Earth are known to create similar rocky coatings. But of course, this will become just one of numerous theories that have to be confirmed or rejected in the future.

Image of a rock on Mars named 'Nataani', which includes parts of the purple coating on the right side of the shot. Credit: NASA, JPL-CALTECH
Image of a rock on Mars named ‘Nataani’, which includes parts of the purple coating on the right side of the shot. Credit: NASA, JPL-CALTECH

What data did the rover collect?

The rover’s data shows that the purple rock layer is softer and chemically different from the rocks below. According to data from one camera, the coatings contain iron oxides. Another one suggests that there is hydrogen and magnesium.

The presence of hydrogen suggests that water contributed to the formation of purple spots. Iron oxide also indicates water, and therefore, this will give scientists the opportunity to establish how long the water filled the crater and the chemical composition of the lake.

As mentioned above, it is also possible that the purple rocks are associated with life. In the harsh Martian conditions, rocks can be a hiding place for microbes although such have not been found to date, of course.

Although the purple coatings of the rocks seem to be fragile, scientists hope that the rover will be able to collect at least some samples. Obviously, in-depth research will only be possible once NASA gets samples back to Earth, which is unlikely to happen this decade.

Researchers note that this is unlikely to be the last unusual material that Perseverance will encounter in the Jezero Crater.

Meanwhile, NASA’s other rover on Mars – Curiosity – discovered new intriguing carbon signatures in its own research location, the Gale Crater. Read all about this exciting discovery in our separate article on the topic.


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Sources:

Evans, K. (2022, January 21). Mysterious purple-coated rocks found all over the place on Mars. IFLScience.
Los Alamos National Laboratory. (2021, February 16). Looking for life on Mars. LANL Newsroom.
Ollila, A. M. (2021, December 14). Analysis of potential surface coatings in Jezero crater by SuperCam on the perseverance rover. AGU.
Tran, T. (2022, January 20). Scientists puzzled by purple coating on Mars Rocks. Futurism.
Wei-Haas, M. (2022, January 13). Mysterious purple coating found on Mars Rocks. Science.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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