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June 29, 2009

Utah "Blueberries" Discovered on Mars

-by T.J. Adamson

I recently went hiking in Snow Canyon State Park near St. George, Utah. Surrounded by sandstone rocks, the park is perfect for a great hike or scenic drive. My favorite part of hiking the area is finding what I like to call “sand-marbles.” Ranging from the size of a pea to that of a golf ball, these rocks are known as hematite concretions and are formed when underground minerals are precipitated from flowing groundwater. These little rocks are pretty much native to Utah and can be found in many of Southern Utah’s state and national parks including Zion, Capitol Reef, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and in the Moab area.

So why am I telling you this? Well, in 2004, NASA’s Opportunity Rover discovered the same rocks on Mars. They call them “blueberries” because it reminded one of the scientists of blueberries in a muffin. Since their discovery, many geologists and NASA researchers have tested the sediments and formation conditions of the rocks found in Utah and compared them with the rocks found on Mars. Many believe that the discovery of hematite rocks on Mars suggests signs of water and thus possible life on Mars. “On Earth, whenever we find water, we find life — in surface or underground water, hot water or cold water — any place there is water on Earth there are microbes, there is life,” said Bill Parry of the University of Utah emeritus geologist to the UCR-News. “That’s the bottom line: hematite is linked to life.”

Take a look at these pictures. Check out how similar Utah’s hematite concretions, or sand-marbles, are compared to the pictures of “blueberries” on Mars taken by NASA’s Opportunity rover on Mars.

Hematite concretions or “earth Blueberries”,
from Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah.
Photo Credit: Brenda Beitler

Marble like rocks, or “Blueberries, taken by the Opportunity rover on Mars
Photo Credit: NASA

Hematite concretions, or “earth Blueberries”, on the surface of
Navajo sandstone at Grand Staircase-Escalante
Photo Credit: Brenda Beitler

Formed millions of years ago, the Utah rocks (left) are similar to “blueberries”
discovered on Mars (right), hinting clues about the history of water on Mars.
Photo Credit: NASA-Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Cornell University

My pictures of Snow Canyon hematite concretions, or “Earth Blueberries:”

In this picture, you can see the rocks forming on the surface of the sandstone.

Photo Credits: T.J. Adamson

1 comment:

Jay said...

I have a site in Ohio that shows similar hematite and spherules that show up in Utah and on Mars. I found these in conjunction with what I believe are impact craters. I believe that hematite can be literaly smelted out of existing soils when a asteroid strikes an atmosphere bearing planets. At the same time I think little balls of silica bubble out.