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Mysterious purple coating found on Mars rocks in all directions

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NASA; JPL-CALTECH, MSSS

A presentation of data collected from the Perseverance rover attempts to explain the ubiquitous coatings of unknown, dark gray, almost purple material on the Mars rocks.

After being observed everywhere the rover has rolled, more details about the composition of the coating could come with clues about Mars' past, including whether it hosted microbial life.

On the ground, rock deposits, called lacquers, tend to be excellent places to find unusual microbes like cyanobacteria. The hooks of the surface of a rock are refuges if you are a microbe, and often offer moisture and shelter. Some species have even been known to metabolize minerals like manganese on the surface of rocks to create a coating to protect themselves from UV-rich sunlight.

A study in southern Tryol, Italy, found 55 bacterial species living under rock lacquers at five sample sites, all of which were rich in iron and manganese.

On Mars, the Perseverance rover's science kit has scientists who believe that the almost purple coating found throughout the Jezero crater is rich in iron.

MORE: Watch our greatest moments from Mars in 2021: Riding on the Shoulders of NASA's Perseverance Rover

The rover's laser crash-induced spectroscopy tool blasts rocks with laser beams until parts of it explode, and then measures the elemental composition of the gas formed.

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Purple coating at the top right of the frame / NASA; JPL-CALTECH,

Microphones can also measure the rocks' "clack" sound when they crack, with softer sounds indicating softer rock.

Although this tool did not detect any manganese in the Jezero samples, other samples taken in Gale Crater did with a similar tool aboard the Curiosity rover; results, which were also published as a study of "stone paving."

The samples taken by Perseverance auditorily indicated that the coating was separated from the rocks below, and the spectroscopy found iron oxides and hydrogen; in other words rust.

The presence of hydrogen suggests that water played a role in the creation of the coating, but the rover is currently investigating ancient solidified magma and is not really near the sediments of Lake Jezero.

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It is a mystery that requires more investigation, and perhaps Perseverance will encounter varnishes with both iron and manganese like the Italian ones before the end of the mission.

But so far, the rover has stored samples in tubes for its future return to Earth. Researchers hope that the purple coatings can survive the journey intact enough to be studied in a proper laboratory.

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