Highlands & Islands

Mars crystals similar to those found in Scotland

Jura on Mars Image copyright NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Image caption The crystals were spotted in rock at a site called Jura on Mars

Crystals similar to those that have been studied in rocks in Scotland have been found on Mars.

The tiny V-shaped and single elongated formations were discovered at site on the Red Planet called Jura, the name of a small island in Scotland's Inner Hebrides.

Nasa's rover Curiosity has taken photographs of the site during its exploration of geological features named after other places in Scotland, including Rona, Scalpay, Skara Brae, Glen Roy and Cocksburnpath.

The discovery of the crystals has excited scientists because they offer further clues to the presence of water and other fluids on Mars in the past.

Sanjeev Gupta, a Curiosity science team member at Imperial College London, has studied similar shaped crystals in rocks of Scotland.

He said: "These shapes are characteristic of gypsum crystals.

"These can form when salts become concentrated in water, such as in an evaporating lake."

'Very lucky'

Curiosity was tasked with investigating Jura because the colour of the bedrock is noticeably pale and grey compared to the red of the surrounding rock.

Abigail Fraeman, of Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said: "These tiny 'V' shapes really caught our attention, but they were not at all the reason we went to that rock.

"We were looking at the colour change from one area to another.

"We were lucky to see the crystals. They're so tiny, you don't see them until you're right on them."

The Isle of Jura is renowned for its own geography. Its landscape is dominated by the Paps of Jura, three cone-like, scree-covered hills.

Image the copyright of Nasa/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

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