Blueberries are faeces

1 | 2 Next
Author Message

PostPosted: August 20, 2004 10:56 AM 

Having found this Forum some weeks ago I now thing it is time to put my first suggestion up for discussion. Since rarely anything is new under the sun, please apologise if the idea below has been proposed earlier by someone else. Furthermore, English is not my first language please be forgiving with any mistakes. End of disclaimers, here is my idea:

Assume a watery Mars, in which live has evolved. This particular live is driven energetically by oxidising Fe2+ (ferrous)to Fe3+ (ferric)iron. This is thermodynamically only possible in the presumed anoxic Mars environment, if Fe3+ is somehow removed from the reaction. This Mars live has developed the ability to catalyse the precipitation of Fe3+ into relatively insoluble hematite. The (pro-forma) overall reaction driving these organisms would be (sorry, a little bit difficult to read without sub- and superscript):

2Fe2+ + 3H2O >> Fe2O3 (hematite) + H2 + 4H+

(the H2 does not actually mean hydrogen gas but stands for 2 electrons usable to drive metabolism). Since this reaction releases 4 protons, it would make the water acidic. This might be an explanation for the lack of carbonate rocks.

The driving force for this reaction is the poor solubility of Fe3+ in hematite. There would be a massive evolutionary pressure to keep its solubility as low as possible to make the overall reaction irreversible. Since solubility depends on surface area, this surface area must be kept at a minimum for a given amount of hematite. How can the surface area of hematite be minimised? Make large crystals (= grey hematite) in form of a sphere (which has the lowest surface /volume ratio of all possible geometries), or in other words, make Martian Blueberries!

So we can now imagine some microscopic (or not so microscopic) martian organisms, feeding on soluble Fe2+ and excreting hematite. They will live as a thin layer surrounding their hematite excreta which will grow with time. Maybe, when a certain critical size is reached, the system becomes unstable and the formed hematite sphere is abandoned to be buried in the sediments. As a possibility maybe, these Martian organisms had little gas container capable of keeping the hematite sphere at neutral buoyancy and above a certain size, the sphere was just becoming too heavy.

Some time ago, some Martian organisms were happily swimming in the Martian lakes and oceans and they left behind their faeces which Opportunity and NASA have now detected as Martian Blueberries.


Very Happy


Posts: 440

Reply: 1

PostPosted: August 20, 2004 11:12 AM 

Good Try relbers!

"An explanation for the lack of carbonate rocks" -- this is good. we need this.

The spheres were not buried in the sediments but rather were formed there -- That's the theory anyway

"had little gas container capable of keeping the hematite sphere at neutral buoyancy" -- I don't follow you on this and don't really see a need for it. They would only need to float to receive sunlight or for gas exchange. Your theory doesn't call for these things.

But overall -- Keep Up the Good Work and continue posting

Forum Moderator Richard

Posts: 1921

Reply: 2

PostPosted: August 20, 2004 12:23 PM 

Here is a link to a thread where this was discuissed before on this forum


Posts: 13

Reply: 3

PostPosted: August 20, 2004 9:37 PM 

Thank you Richard for the link to a related thread. There is clearly an overlap but I would like to argue with regard to your statement “…this was discussed before…”. In that other thread the discussion tried to explain Mars phenomena by an earthly biology, based upon earthly evolution. But I see no reason, why putative Martian life should be closely similar to Earth life. Martian evolution would have found solutions drastically different to solutions found by evolution on Earth even if at some time several billions of years ago the physical environment might have looked similar on both planets.

My point for discussion is an alien autotrophic biology, energetically driven by solubility differences between ferrous and ferric iron linked to redox reactions. The production of hematite containing spherules would be the natural consequence of such biology.

Marklar, thank you for your kind words. I fully agree that there is no need for “little gas container“. The Mars organism could have been as simple as a single monolayer of cells engulfing the growing BB. (I hesitate using the word “cells” since mars life might have invented different organisation principles than cells). I only introduced this as a simple mechanism that could explain the observed size distribution of Martian BBs, in particular the rapid cut-off at about 5mm.

The theory, that Martian BBs have grown in situ is related to the assumption that they are concretions. While they might look similar to concretions found on Earth (e.g. the famous hematite concretions from Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah), there seems to be one critical difference: These concretions consist of basically of the same components than the surrounding rock (sand), just cemented by the precipitation of little iron minerals into pre-existing hollows. Their growth was just a transformation of the surrounding rock and did not require extra volume. Contrary to this, the Martian BBs seem to consist of material very different from the surrounding rock. Their in situ growth would have required extra volume which would be very difficult to introduce into a non-compressible material like rock (try shooting a balloon filled with water and watch). This fact by itself should exclude any in situ growth.



Posts: no

Reply: 4

PostPosted: August 21, 2004 6:15 AM 


You mean "feces" or more properly - "Coprolites".

Excellent hypotheses! Imaginative open minded solutions like yours will solve the mountain of problems presented to us by Mars.

Your hypotheses makes sense. I understand the reason for the buoyancy – The near perfectly round “berries’ we see. If your proposed organisms lived on the ocean floor (like benthic foraminifera) they should have a flat side (the bottom), but we find near perfectly round “berries” along with uniserial doubles and triples (no close-ups of larger serial specimens). I suppose it’s possible that these organisms rolled around to maintain all sides of the hematite stone or had a foot to support their stone but buoyant organisms is a simpler solution.

How do you account for the non-“berry” hematite objects? There are many, but they have been discussed little. Irrationally many do not even acknowledge their existence and do not include their formation with the formation of “berries”. Whatever process produced the hematite for the “berries” must have also produced the hematite for the other objects.


There is a whole list of issues that any “berry” hypothesis needs to include. I have not posted my list as far as I remember. Lets start with this one: How do you account for the non-“berry” hematite objects?


Posts: no

Reply: 5

PostPosted: August 21, 2004 8:37 AM 

How do you account for the non-“berry” hematite objects?

Mineral replacement.


Posts: no

Reply: 6

PostPosted: August 21, 2004 9:41 AM 

Yes. This is a well known fact that fossils are formed by mineral replacement.




Posts: 440

Reply: 7

PostPosted: August 21, 2004 12:03 PM 


here are 2 papers about hematite and microbes


Posts: 440

Reply: 8

PostPosted: August 21, 2004 12:12 PM 

this should interest you also

Alteration of microbially precipitated iron oxides and hydroxides


Posts: no

Reply: 9

PostPosted: August 21, 2004 3:40 PM 

Tom - "Mineral replacement"

I could not agree more! Now - what was replaced?


Posts: no

Reply: 10

PostPosted: August 21, 2004 5:37 PM 

I should add that replacement is just one of the processes that occurr during diagenesis and when replacement occurs it generally obscures the original details - just the course outline is left. But here and there - in some specimens - we find some of the details preserved. Add them up.


Posts: 13

Reply: 11

PostPosted: August 21, 2004 8:53 PM 

Two countries, divided by a common language ... who said this? - not being a native English speaker, I prefer to spell “English – English”. However, I only used the word (UK spelling) “faeces” as an eye catcher for the topic headline and to get the discussion started.

In my model, the Martian hematite BBs would actually be neither (US spelling) "feces" nor "Coprolites". They would be end products of metabolism analogous to water and carbon dioxide for earthly animals or analogous to oxygen for earthly blue-green bacteria and their cousins living inside of plant cells called chloroplasts (if only the photosynthetic metabolism is considered) or analogous to methane for earthly methanogenic archaea. I actually do not know a word that precisely covers all these metabolic end products.

Fossils, I fully agree with your view that any “berry” hypothesis must explain all observed facts. If it does not, the idea is probably just wrong. Furthermore, I am no friend of the common practice to just add ad-hoc assumptions until a hypothesis is no longer falsifiable. So let’s try to explore my idea with regard to your question “How do you account for the non-“berry” hematite objects?” and doing this without new assumptions that are not a logical part of the idea itself (keeping in mind that this is anyhow only an exercise in speculation not in science).

My hypothetical buoyant Martian organisms is rather sophisticated and must be the product of a long evolution (it probably had to be much more complicated than my earlier description in this thread since I only mentioned the organism’s ferric side where evolution would select for minimal surface area. Its ferrous side would be selected to maximise surface area. You should imagine a creature with a growing hematite ball at its centre, surrounded by some gas containing compartments for buoyancy and completely covered with an extensive system of “antennae” with a large total surface area to collect ferrous ions).

This Martian organism implies that 1.) there were other species (which might have produced non-berry hematite pebbles) and 2.) there were less sophisticated organisms. These organisms (e.g. lacking the apparatus for buoyancy) might consider discarded berries a good starting point for their own hematite synthesis, resculpturing or fusing berries in the process.

These two explanations how non-“berry” hematite objects could be formed are only using assumptions which are intrinsic to the theorized functioning of the Mars organisms and to general principles of evolution. With one additional assumption, further modifications of Martian BBs become thinkable. Assume, there are other Martian organisms using a different energy source than solubility differences between ferrous and ferric ions (e.g. light energy). For those organisms, ferric iron could be a convenient oxidizing agent. They would therefore be “hematite eaters” eating or dissolving discarded berries. Their action could manifest itself in dimples or holes in Martian BBs when they are finally buried in sediment.

Together, the “hematite producers” and the “hematite eaters” could recycle iron ions on Mars in a similar way as e.g. on Earth oxygen is recycled between plants and animals or methane is recycled between methanogenic archaea and methanotrophs (methane-utilizing bacteria). However, only ions but no gases are involved in my proposed Mars process. It would leave no atmospheric traces.

Marklar, thank you for the interesting links showing that microbiology is involved in earthly hematite formation. Maybe microbes use my process here on Earth in some ecological niche which despite our atmospheric oxygen still contains sufficient ferrous iron.



Posts: 13

Reply: 12

PostPosted: August 21, 2004 10:29 PM 

Addendum to my last post:

Here a further assumption: My hypothetical buoyant Martian organisms will normally start growing with a single microscopic hematite crystal in its “hematite organ”. Occasionally, some organisms will start life with two or more crystals. For these organisms, their developing hematite spheres will eventually fuse. If this is the cause for fused BBs, than there is a possible check for some aspects of my hypothesis. Please remember that I introduced buoyancy and a limited carrying capacity as an easy explanation for the observed size distribution of Martian BBs, in particular with regard to the rapid cut-off above about 5mm. If my buoyant Martian organism hypothesis is correct, the total mass of any fused berries should not be greater than the mass of the largest single berry.



Posts: no

Reply: 13

PostPosted: August 22, 2004 2:55 PM 


Sorry about the British spelling misunderstanding. Spelling is a black art as far as I’m concerned – the spell checker just makes it worse sometimes.

I understand your proposed organism – hematite is a byproduct of its metabolism.

I like the test you propose, it may help quantify. But as you can see from the photo I posted we have some very big crumpled/squished “berries” to account for that contain more hematite than the triples.

You hypothesis is a complicated solution. I would like to see basic concretion and fossil hypothesis expanded on first. Concretions are a little understood common geologic process. Fossilization is a well know common geologic process.

It is important to recognize is that life is in domain separate from these geologic processes. That life is complicated, arose etc are completely separate questions from the question of what process created the “berries” and other hematite objects.

It possible that the macro structure (berry shape) is directly related to life’s metabolism, but it is unlikely.

nick winney

Posts: 4

Reply: 14

PostPosted: November 15, 2004 12:35 PM 

all fascinating stuff. whilst i have a very rusty background in human physiology, and you guys seem to really know your onions when it comes to chemistry and geology, perhaps magnetism in the haematite particles cause them to acrete naturally when they are blown together during inclement weather. I know that there are both localised magnetic fields on mars, and certainly inclement weather.

Raptor Witness

Posts: 2255

Reply: 15

PostPosted: December 4, 2004 1:19 AM 

Thank you Mr. Moderator for giving me some credit for the hard work I did here last spring, with respect to the "poop" issue. Wink We both know the crap I took for submitting the photographic evidence.

I say the photographic evidence is as helpful as the chemical analysis. Which is why I disagree with how NASA is crafting it's hypothetical conclusions. That is, by chemical analysis alone. At least when it comes to life signs.

Relbers presents an interesting compositional theory. I've thought these "berries" were waste products from the moment I saw them in such abundance.

Sometimes science forgets it's common sense when observing the obvious. Common sense says, this is a waste product of some chemical reaction, which limits the size for some reason. I say, that reason is life.

Oracle of Delphi

Posts: 6

Reply: 16

PostPosted: December 4, 2004 7:40 AM 

Some force is limiting the size and that force is not random inorganic chemistry.


Posts: xxx

Reply: 17

PostPosted: July 22, 2011 11:56 AM 

Sorry to ressurect/ bus I was reading that this has been recreated in a lab using similar composition to martian soil. You just shock it with a bolt of plasma and it balls up like that.

What is happening in the minerals are getting squeesed in an electromagnetic field in what is called Z-pinch, we can crush pop cans like this today if you want to spend $500 on capacitors and DIY tesla towers.

Additionally they say most features we see on mars could have been made very quickly by being shocked with a cosmic sized lightning bolt. ref:

Lin Liangtai

Posts: 24

Reply: 18

PostPosted: September 23, 2011 9:37 PM 

Blueberries are chondrules of meteorites.

Dana Johnson

Posts: 1195

Reply: 19

PostPosted: September 27, 2011 11:24 AM 

They are so close to the size of the 'iron rain' of the Meteor Crater in Arizona, but with a rounder and somewhat ordered internal assembly in some. I thought I saw rounded subparticles, and linear thread-like connected structures in most. The order is subdued in the appearance, but present upon wear or breakage, so I would stick to the later stage crystallization/segregation possibility, but many prefer the routine concretion estimate.
I just follow the few paths that seem most evident to my few personal experiences. I'll try to photograph the tiny meteorite 'iron rain' particles I have from the Arizona crater region. I am sure there are differences to study up close.
Good to hear from you Lin.

Dana Johnson

Posts: 1195

Reply: 20

PostPosted: September 27, 2011 1:21 PM 

Due to the lack of many local berries in the most current rover exploration, I suspect that the study of them will be slowed by current events. If you happen to read this entry, Lin, I was interested in what you think about one of my topics which seems to have fallen flat on it's face, without a single entry of comment since I published it. Not related to the spheroids possibly, but as both are planet-wide influences on the two planets basic physics and geology forces at work probably, perhaps I could post a link to the anigifs here of the GRACE gravity field structure satellite investigation of Earth's current gravity field which closely demarks major earthquake activity, and margins the continental shelf domains of some fixed longitudinal pole to pole field shear zones.
As we have only residual electromagnetic structural displays in the current view of the Mars rocks, it may be a large part of a century until we find the matching field structure record in Mars rocks or from the core residual of Mars inner materials.
There are connections I believe between the berries and the Mars gravity field structure actions of the past, even if the information is not yet recorded by satellites there. I am sure some day we will see a satellite mapping Mars as it was done on the Earths gravity structure.
Surface events or structures seem to give the impression on Mars of blocky anomalies in more longitudinal lines of variation as I remember, limited to massive sectors, not continuous in the most easily viewed initial views. A better satellite effort is needed, and perhaps the berries will give information leading to a understanding as to what stimulates crustal/core motions, including the massive impacts which should have dumped fine particles all across Mars in some depth.
The topic I presented of the Earth gravity field was here. Link
"Eyes on the Earth-An Education in a Window"
Does the relative lack of berries at Endeavour crater thus far indicate that the berries are not 'iron rain' or residual meteorite chondrules? Would some impacts simply not produce them, or, is the topic here suggesting a growth in place or a local cause supplying a better explanation of the distribution around the small craters we have found them at?
The suggestion of the 'Z-pinch' plasma forces are interesting, but would seem to exclude them at the small Eagle sized craters as residue of the impacting of smaller craters in that causation applied by impacts of that power.
The massive magnetic longitudinal structures we found on Mars have been suggested as showing the Mars core did not fully develop as on the larger Earth, but was precluded from further alteration of and in the Highlands where magnetism is found as vague stripes from the formation motions which follow the Lowlands/Highlands separation lines. Will we find the berries locations can give an answer based upon local events at the dichotomy boundary, or will we find it required both the margin of two terrain types(possibly waters presence as well) and the presence of an energy source for the berry/spheroid development?
The main volcanic terrain sectors which show regional massive order between the rover sites shows me the possibility that Mars core rotates separate from it's crust, as would have been seen on Earth if our mobility was reduced by deprivation of open water oceans and small seas connecting.
The berries once determined to be the province of massive volcanism deposits, impacts, or dessicated powders re-consolidating in windy accumulation, may help in showing whether the continental sized active geology domains between the rovers was a failed Earth-like gravity field parallel planetary geology process.
On Earth the continents ride the field structure and are built and shaped by the interaction with water accompaniment, but on Mars we have a record of volcanic massive unaltered buildup along vaguely similar lines as the Earth/s gravity field pattern where continent's would build.
Possibly the berries are a fossil field of undeveloped early continental formation.
I'll be happy to take this back to my linked topic if Lin or others care to discuss the general concept of Mars as a Earth-like body with sufficient water to form spheroids but not enough to form continents in motion.

1 | 2 Next

Join the conversation:

Very Happy Smile Sad Surprised
Shocked Confused Cool Laughing
Mad Razz Embarassed Crying or Very Sad
Evil or Very Mad Twisted Evil Rolling Eyes Wink
Powered by MTSmileys