by David Talbott
Mar 25, 2005
Credit left: NASA
Plasma physicist uses electric arcs to replicate the mysterious
spherules on the Red Planet.
On January 25, 2004, the Mars Rover “Opportunity” landed in a small
crater on the Martian plain called Meridiani Planum. A few days
later, Opportunity photographed a sight that could alter our ideas
about the recent history of the solar system:
Scattered around the
walls of the crater were BB-sized spherules.
Their blue-gray color
set them apart from the reddish hue of the iron-rich Martian soil
and suggested a name for them—blueberries.
The left half of the picture above shows these Martian blueberries
at different magnifications. They are embedded in what appears to be
fused layers of soil that are exposed on the margins of the crater.
As Opportunity rolled further across the Martian landscape, it found
a profusion of blueberries. Investigative team members speculated
that countless numbers of the spherules lie embedded in the Martian
soil. Over time, erosion has exposed large numbers of them and has
left many lying on the surface.
After spectroscopic analysis, the Martian spherules were identified
as “hematite concretions”. Hematite is an iron-rich mineral and is
the primary constituent of the soil surrounding the blueberries.
Geologists surmised that they are Martian counterparts of
terrestrial concretions, which are commonly believed to have formed
through water-induced mineral leakage. But this only widens the
mystery. Theories about the formative processes of concretions are
little more than untested guesses. No geologist has seen a
concretion being made or has made one in a laboratory—or has
disproved a competing theory. (But geologists have shown that the
more a guess is repeated, the more it’s apt to be called a fact.)
For many years Electric Universe theorists have proposed that
concretions be examined for evidence of formation through electric
discharge. In our Picture of the Day for August 27, 2004,
Blueberries on Mars
(above image), we compared the
Martian spherules to hematite
concretions from Texas and “Moqui balls” from Utah. We gave several
reasons for investigating the possible electrical origins of
concretions, geodes, and other mysterious spherical geologic forms.
The conventional theories, we noted, are based exclusively on
chemistry and mechanics. But there is another phenomenon that
produces spheres—electric discharge. In the plasma lab, electric
arcs create tiny spheres that are often hollow, such as the hematite
concretions seen above. Electric discharge tends to produce
spherical layering and a distinct equator and pole, because the
electromagnetic force "squeezes" perpendicular to the current that
creates it. These characteristics are also found in the "natural"
spherules. The Moqui balls pictured here
(above - lower left)
equatorial bulges and polar markings. Rock-cutters recommend that
you will get a better display from a geode if you first locate the
equator and poles, then cut across the poles.
Even before this Picture of the Day was written, the plasma
physicist CJ Ransom, of Vemasat Laboratories, had set up an
experiment to test the electrical explanation of concretions and
Martian blueberries. He obtained a quantity of hematite and blasted
it with an electric arc. The results are seen in the right half of
the image above. The embedded spheres created by the arc appear to
replicate many of the features of the blueberries on Mars. No other
laboratory process has achieved a similar result. It should
encourage further experiments using higher energies.
Dr. Ransom’s experimental work has laid a foundation for a radical
reassessment of planetary geology. If concretions can only be
replicated by electric discharge, we can no longer view
them—or the strata in which they appear—through the lens of prior
In the matter at hand (hematite concretions), the direct evidence
will be difficult to ignore. Dr C.J. Ransom’s and Wallace Thornhill’s paper on the laboratory-generated spherules will be
presented at the national meeting of the American Physical Society,
in Tampa Florida, April 17, 2005.