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Camelback Outcrop

View a larger image (330 kB) or learn about other sol 9 images.

The rover's Pancam captured this stunning stack of layered rocks, called "Camelback," which could provide fingerprint-like clues that help scientists figure out what type of land-moving processes sculpted this "outcrop." Outcrop is a term geologists use to describe rock features that were once underground in the past and are presently exposed because of intense environmental changes caused by wind, rain, and gravity over thousands of years.

While the rocks exposed here are certainly very old, it's hard to tell their exact age. Each layer in the rock face, however, represents a different time period in history. Because there are so many layers, it's clear that this feature has been around for a while. As science team member Jack Farmer relates, "We may not know the age, but what we can say is that these layers of rock accumulated over time as one horizontal layer was deposited on top of another. The fact that the rocks are gently tilted to the right show that they were later lifted up by some geologic process in the area."

Jack Farmer

Jack Farmer

Jack is a professor of Geological Sciences at Arizona State University who has been interested in geology for his whole career. Since he won't be able to study landforms on Mars personally, sending a rover to study a rock like this one is the next best thing. That's because the rover has to get really up-close and personal with the outcrop to understand the history of the region through its rock layers.

A primary goal of the science team today is to test the hypothesis (that is, a possible explanation) that the rocks in this image were formed by water. Testing for ancient water at this site will be accomplished through a combination of instruments, such as Mini-TES and the Microscopic Imager, which can tell the science team a lot about the composition of the rocks --that is, what minerals they are made of. This compositional information will be crucial for identifying the presence of water-formed minerals, such as carbonates.

Scientists will compare the compositional information for each rock layer with close-up images of these areas and microscopic images of other pieces of rock that have fallen down from higher layers on the outcrop to places where the rover can safely traverse. "The combination of this information about the different layers should allow us to decide whether there is any evidence of water here at any time," says Farmer.

How will the science team do that? Each layer is the proverbial "product of its environment." As Jack explains, "As each layer was laid down, it captured a record of the climate and environment that existed locally at the time the rocks were formed. The layers at the bottom were laid down first, and those at the top, last. By looking at each layer, we can determine whether--and when, relative to other layers--water was present. We can also tell what form the water was in--that is, whether a stream, a lake, or an ocean was responsible for creating the various minerals in the layers."

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Last Updated: 16 August 2002

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