UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. -- "Yogi," the rock that the Sojourner rover investigated on Mars, is remarkably similar to the rocks underneath recently dedicated "Yogi" Berra Stadium on the Montclair State University campus, a university geologist says.
"'Yogi' appears be more earth-like than anticipated, according to the preliminary analyses," said Dr. Gregory Pope of MSU's Earth and Environmental Studies Department. "NASA geologists indicate that 'Yogi' is a fine-grained homogenous basalt. This if very much like the rock that underlies the University campus and can be found in the former quarry where Yogi Berra baseball stadium is being constructed.
"'Yogi' looks unlike any of the Martian meteorites recovered on earth," Pope said. "In chemical composition, it falls into the realm of 'terrestrial basalts,' which would group it with similar volcanic rocks such as the Watchung basalt of Montclair or the Columbia flood basalts of Washington state. These are the very dark, solid rocks that come from runny lava emanating from fissures and fractures. 'Yogi' has plenty of dark minerals and only a little silica (like quartz) typical of basalt.
"NASA says that basalt is the most common rock found in the inner solar system, and makes up major portions of the surfaces of Mercury, Venus, the Moon, as well as part of Mars and parts of Earth. That 'Yogi' falls within the range of Earth basalts is very interesting, if only for the remarkable coincidence."
Pope said that "the similarities are such that if 'Yogi' -- the rock, not the baseball legend who lives here in Montclair -- was lurking out on the edge of the baseball stadium parking lot, I doubt we would notice much of a difference."
Pope noted that both the 'Yogi' rock on Mars and the rocks underlying MSU's baseball stadium "come from volcanic flows that resemble those from Hawaii or Iceland. The Martian rock, however, is probably at least 10 times as old as our local variety, and could be a lot older than most rocks you could find on earth."
Pope added that 'Yogi' differs from neighboring rocks on the Martian surface.
"'Barnacle Bill' is an andesite, a completely different volcanic rock, with more silica, more like what would be found on tall volcanic cones like Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainer or Mt. Fuji, but still different in rock chemistry from similar rocks on earth," he said.
"That 'Barnacle Bill' and 'Yogi' are near each other is interesting," Pope said. "Sagan Station is located on what appears to be a Martian floodplain. Perhaps the stones were carried by floodwaters which left them side-by-side. Martian floods were on a scale probably unprecedented on Earth. The only floods we have to compare are the catastrophic glacial lake bursts in Idaho and Washington at the end of the last Ice Age."
Pope said that he found the similarities between rocks on the two planets intriguing. "It's very satisfying to translate what one studies on earth to relevant features on another planet. Mars is still very alien and hostile to life as we know it, yet has many familiar characteristics deriving from familiar processes. Regardless of whether we confirm if life ever existed on Mars, we have found a connection between the two planets."
Pope noted that a graduate student with whom he is working, Glenn Calabrese, is involved in a study of what the Martian "soil" might be. "We are both eagerly awaiting more data from NASA on this," Page said. "Most geologists have used Antarctica, with its dry, cold, climate, as an analog for Martian soil-forming conditions. Calabrese thinks that Australia, with its ancient desert surface, deep weathering and highly oxidized soil might be a better choice. Of course, a lack of organics and water would make a major difference. But, if the rocks are any indication, the similarities may be more than we expected."
The above story is based on materials provided by Montclair State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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