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Hikers rambling through Utah's candy-striped canyons sometimes come across a strange-looking sight.
Where the Navajo Sandstone loses its iconic peach, orange and red stripes, hundreds of round, iron-coated stones often litter the ground.
When a mixture of water and natural gas flowed through the Navajo Sandstone, it stripped away the rusty coating, bleaching the rocks from red to creamy white.
Chan thinks this iron-rich water crept through the sandstone until it reached a crack, hole or layer where the water chemistry was different and iron settled out of the water.
Other rusty structures formed too, including discs, "flying saucers," pipes and flat plates.
The milestone — among the early evidence for water on Mars — boosted interest in Earth's iron baubles.The concretions owe their existence to massive tectonic shifts in the Southwest, researchers think.Some 20 million years ago, the Colorado Plateau started to bob up like a cork.Sometimes, a treasure — like a bone or a shell — hides inside.The moqui marbles crop up in the Navajo Sandstone in Arizona and in Utah's public lands, eroding from the spectacular white cliffs in Zion National Park and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The iron stones appear almost black, with a pitted surface polished by blowing sand.