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NASA Rover Spots Surreal 'Spikes' on Mars

If Dr. Seuss sculpted Mars, it would look like this.

Delicate, spiky rock formations on Mars
NASA's Curiosity rover snapped views of these wild little formations on Mars on May 15.

This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

NASA's Curiosity rover has a knack for snapping eye-opening pictures of the Gale Crater on Mars. There was the (actually very small) "doorway" recently and then a facelike cliff last year. The latest "wow, look at that" image to come to my attention shows two delicate, gravity-defying formations reaching upward from the dusty Martian surface.

The SETI Institute -- a research organization focused on searching for life in the universe -- highlighted the image in a tweet last week, calling it a "cool rock." 

SETI offered a possible explanation for the fantastical shapes: "The spikes are most likely the cemented fillings of ancient fractures in a sedimentary rock. The rest of the rock was made of softer material and was eroded away." 

The image came from Curiosity's mast-mounted camera (Mastcam) on May 15. It can be hard to judge the scale of rocks and other small landscape features, but a wider view suggests the formations are very dainty. The spikes are reminiscent of a lovely flower or coral-shaped concretion (leftover from erosion of sedimentary rock) the rover spotted earlier this year.

Curiosity's cameras allow it to see the big and the small of Mars, from grand panoramas to tiny details on the ground. There's beauty and wonder in both perspectives. 

When I see the fragile-looking spike forms, it transports me back to childhood and playing with "magic sand" -- a colorful hydrophobic educational toy -- in a sink full of water, making shapes every bit as wild as what Mars has come up with.