October 12, 2012, 12:14 PM — OK, maybe the Mars Rover won't find a still, or evidence of a keg party, but Curiosity's analysis of a large rock it's been zapping in order to study its composition has turned up a surprise to scientists.
"This rock is a close match in chemical composition to an unusual but well-known type of igneous rock found in many volcanic provinces on Earth," Edward Stolper of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, a Curiosity "co-investigator," said Thursday. "With only one Martian rock of this type, it is difficult to know whether the same processes were involved, but it is a reasonable place to start thinking about its origin."
The geeky way Stolper explains it here isn't going to blow the socks off a non-geologist. But here's where it gets interesting, at least in a way that might arouse some enthusiasm in your typical underclassman texting his way through a mandatory life sciences course: The formation process an igneous rock (such as the one Curiosity is studying) undergoes is similar to the way applejack liquor was made by colonial Americans. Dude!
Stolper explains (as quoted by DiscoveryNews):
"You take hard cider, and the way it was made in colonial times is they would put it out in big barrels in the winter and it would freeze -- but not fully, so you'd crystallize out ice and you'd make more and more and more concentrated apple-flavored liquor.
"This is precisely what happens when you generate a magma on a planet. You generate magma by melting in the interior, it comes to the surface and, just like the applejack, when you cool it, it crystallizes. When it partially crystallizes, it generates a liquid that concentrates particular elements in it that are not in what’s crystallizing."
And around the country, thousands of frat boys have settled on their science-lab project.