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Perfect Spheres Seen in New Mars Photos

This Monday I watched the movie Mission to Mars so it made the new pictures coming from Mars even more exciting. The new photo shows thousands of tiny, perfectly rounded spheres that have been seen on the dark soil around the Mars rover Opportunity. The bead-like particles were seen in high-resolution images taken by the craft's panoramic camera, and two of them were seen close up by its microscopic imager. The spheres are unlike anything we've ever seen on Mars and are intriguing because there are only so many ways to make round things. They could be frozen drops of lava ejected by a volcanic eruption (called lapillae), frozen drops of rock melted and thrown out by a meteorite impact (called tektites), or, most excitingly, particles formed by slow chemical accretion in a body of water (called oolites).

Further close examination by the rover's suite of instruments should help to pinpoint the mechanism of formation. For example, if the rover finds a cracked sphere and sees pearl-like concentric layering, the particles would be oolites. However, some of the spheres appear to have holes in them, which suggests the escape of trapped gases from a molten blob and hence a volcanic or impact origin.

NASA February 5, 2004 Small Picture Large Picture

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