NASA may be ramping up for the launch of its next Mars rover mission later this month, but the Agency's Opportunity rover — which has been chugging around the Martian landscape for close to eight years, now — refuses to recede into obsolescence. You're looking at a close-up of the Martian surface, recently shot by Opportunity's onboard cam, that reveals a line of light-colored rocks known to NASA astronomers as "Homestake" or "The Vein." And they say it's like nothing they've ever seen.
It may not look like much, but scientists speculate that the strange geological feature could actually wind up providing NASA with hard evidence that there are phyllosilicates on the red planet's surface. Why is this a big deal? For one thing, phyllosilicates belong to a class of minerals that form in the presence of a watery environment. But they form in water that is less acidic than the water that is thought to have given rise to the silica-rich clay minerals discovered by NASA's Spirit rover five years ago. Martian soil with lower acidity would, in theory, be more hospitable to life.
Until now, however, we've only identified the presence of phyllosilicates on the Martian surface using images captured from space. To actually discover, identify, and analyze phyllosilicates from the red planet's surface would be an unprecedented achievement.