NASA's Mars Curiosity rover discovers book-shaped rock on the Red Planet

The robotic rover has been reading Mars' surface like a book for years now.
Chris Young
The book-shaped rock captured by Curiosity.
The book-shaped rock captured by Curiosity.

NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS 

Has NASA discovered the dustiest book ever?

The U.S. space agency's Curiosity rover stumbled upon a book-shaped rock on the surface of Mars. Curiosity discovered the rock, which looks uncannily like a hardcover, on April 15.

It goes to show that, though the Curiosity mission may have been running for over 3,800 Martian days (or sols), it still has plenty of surprising features to uncover on the Martian surface.

Light reading for NASA's Curiosity rover

NASA pointed out in a blog post that the unusual rock formation was likely caused by flowing water on Mars seeping through cracks billions of years ago. That water likely carried harder minerals and spread them throughout the Red Planet's surface.

"After eons of being sand-blasted by the wind, softer rock is carved away and the harder materials are all that’s left," NASA explained in its post.

Aptly, NASA scientists nicknamed the rock "Terra Firme", meaning "dry land" or "solid ground". The nickname reflects a sense of discovery by alluding to a phrase used by sailors upon discovering new continents, but also literally refers to the hard minerals Curiosity discovered on Mars.

According to Curiosity's measurements, the rock is about an inch across (2.5 centimeters), meaning it is a little smaller than an actual book. The rover captured the image of "Terra Firme" using the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on the end of its robotic arm. 

Reading Mars' ancient rock formations

The Curiosity rover has been exploring Mars' Gale Crater since August 2012. It has made several milestone discoveries, including the detection of persistent liquid water on ancient Mars.

Though Curiosity's work has recently been somewhat overshadowed by the more-advanced Perseverance rover's findings, it continues to perform cutting-edge science.

Last year, Curiosity discovered evidence of a key ingredient for life on Mars. Scientists analyzed data collected by Curiosity and calculated the total organic carbon in Martian rocks for the very first time. Their results showed that there is an abundance of the key ingredient for life on the red planet.

Curiosity's successor mission, Perseverance, is leaving sample tubes on Mars for future missions to retrieve and carry to Earth. It's all part of NASA's ambitious plans to discover whether ancient microbial life may have once existed on the Red Planet.

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