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Curiosity Mars Rover: Technical and Geological Forensics

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Curiosity Mars rover – on the prowl since August 2012.
Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now in Sol 2193.

The final photographs from the Mars equipment reached Earth again on Sol 2172, September 15th.

Engineers proceed to wrestle with a glitch that forestalls Curiosity from sending science and engineering knowledge saved in its reminiscence.

In keeping with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the robotic stays in its regular mode “and is in any other case wholesome and responsive,” reported Ashwin Vasavada, the Mars Science Laboratory’s undertaking scientist at JPL again on September 19th.

Geological crime scene

In the meantime, in a brand new geological replace from Susanne Schwenzer, a planetary geologist at The Open College in the UK: “Geology…it’s like investigating against the law scene.”

“Typically planetary geology is like forensics,” Schwenzer says. “We’re offered with against the law scene: One thing broke down the unique igneous rock, and made all these clays, veins and hematite nodules. We all know this one thing was a fluid, however so as to discover out precisely what has occurred, we have to look at all of the proof we’ve.”

This view from the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on the arm of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover exhibits a mix of darkish and lightweight materials inside a mineral vein at a website known as “Backyard Metropolis” on decrease Mount Sharp. The picture was taken on April four, 2015, and covers an space roughly 1 inch huge.
Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

That usually begins with investigating the Curiosity photographs, and in nice element. Mastcam photographs for the geologic context, then Distant Micro Imager (RMI) pictures and/or the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) for the close-up particulars. However what concerning the chemistry?

Minerals with water

“We’re a small staff right here within the UK, specializing in what is known as “thermochemical modelling.” Thermochemical modelling makes use of mathematical equations which might be primarily based on identified reactions of minerals with water,” Schwenzer explains. “The fashions mix many hundreds of such reactions into equations, which may be solved iteratively to reach at a response path for a identified rock composition. And as soon as we decide what reacted and the way, we will additionally infer which chemical parts remained within the water as a result of they weren’t included within the response merchandise.”

In different phrases, Schwenzer provides, scientists can learn how the chemical parts are distributed between the fluid and the newly forming minerals. “A few of our French and American colleagues use this methodology too, and we all the time have nice discussions to advance our work.”

Clays and veins

All the information — photographs and chemistry from Chemistry and Digital camera (ChemCam) and the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) – is studied, and the place accessible additionally mineralogy from the rover’s Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin).

“That’s the proof at our crime scene,” Schwenzer provides. “However who broke the rock and left all these clays and white veins?”

We all know it’s “the fluid,” and the modelling permits us to seek out out what temperature and composition this fluid might need had, Schwenzer factors out. “For instance, we’ve seemed on the veins Curiosity discovered very early within the mission – at Yellowknife Bay. They have been very pure calcium-sulfate, particularly in comparison with what Curiosity measured later at Backyard Metropolis and now at Vera Rubin Ridge.”

Credit score: NASA/JPL

A clue

The purity of the calcium-sulfate at Yellowknife Bay offered a clue:

“If we mannequin a typical Yellowknife Bay rock with all chemical parts within the proportions accessible on this rock to react with water, then we are going to get veins which have extra than simply calcium-sulfate. We might due to this fact anticipate veins that produce other minerals similar to iron oxides and quartz,” Schwenzer studies.

However the veins at Yellowknife Bay didn’t have any of these extra minerals.

“Subsequently, we concluded that they will need to have come from water selectively dissolving a pre-existing mixed-mineralogy layer,” Schwenzer says. “The dissolution of this pre-existing layer would have left the much less soluble minerals – quartz, iron oxides – behind whereas transporting the calcium and sulfate. This is able to have allowed the formation of a really pure calcium-sulfate, which is what was noticed! However how does that assist us at Vera Rubin Ridge?”

Ongoing investigation

Curiosity is positioned now to analyze a really advanced space, which has clearly seen the interplay of rocks with fluids.

“There are veins far more advanced than those at Yellowknife Bay, and as well as there are iron nodules, crystal moulds and colour modifications,” Schwenzer notes. “We, the modellers, are working onerous to grasp how the fluid modified to provide all this new proof… extra later, as investigators not often speak about ongoing investigations, proper?”

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