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Opportunity finds new patch of 'berries' on Mars

Microbe-made Mars rocks mystery re-opens as Curiosity keeps trundling

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The Curiosity rover kept trundling away over the weekend, with NASA reporting the vehicle has now moved 142 meters.

More exciting Martian action over the weekend took place at a spot NASA calls “an outcrop called Kirkwood in the Cape York segment of the western rim of Endeavour Crater.” Ye Olde Opportunity rover is still hard at work in that region of the red planet, where it has found what Opportunity's principal investigator, Steve Squyres of Cornell University called “ … a dense accumulation of these small spherical objects.”

Opportunity has seen such things before. Back in 2004 it spotted similar spherules that came to be known as “blueberries”. Reports of the new batch emerged last Friday.

In a neat co-incidence, just two days before the new find, boffins from the University of West Australia publicised a paper in Geology on the first patch of blueberries asserting they have “clear evidence that microbes were essential in their formation”. That conclusion is based on observation of similar spherules on Earth, which bear “microstructures consistent with bacterial size and morphology.”

The newly-spotted objects, Squyres said, resemble Blueberries but are present in greater density than anything previously seen on the red planet. Initial analysis suggests they are also composed of different stuff compared to the first batch of decidedly ferrous berries.

Happily, NASA says the turning of Mars' seasons means Opportunity will soon have lots of lovely solar energy with which to carry out further investigations of the new berry patch and a nearby patch of ground suspected to house clay minerals.

Sources close to the missions told El Reg Curiosity is not jealous of the retro rover's success, but may have lost “that new rover smell”. ®

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