Wednesday December 13, 2017

NASA’s Curiosity rover finds a Wide Variety of Minerals in Martian Rocks

Orbital infrared spectroscopy shows that mountain's lowermost layers have variations in minerals

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The Hubble Space Telescope took this close-up of Mars when it was just 88 million kilometers away. This image was assembled from a series of exposures taken over 36 hours. A new study posits that heavy rain may have once fallen on the Red Planet. (NASA). VOA
  • Curiosity landed near Mount Sharp in Gale Crater in August 2012 and it reached the base of the mountain in 2014
  • Orbital infrared spectroscopy had shown that the mountain’s lowermost layers have variations in minerals
  • At the base are minerals from a primitive magma source; they are rich in iron and magnesium, similar to basalts in Hawaii, the data showed

Washington, June 12, 2017: Examining initial samples of rocks collected by National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (Nasa) Mars Curiosity rover, scientists have found a wide diversity of minerals in the lowermost layers of Mount Sharp mountain, suggesting that conditions changed in the water environments on the Red Planet over time.

Curiosity landed near Mount Sharp in Gale Crater in August 2012. It reached the base of the mountain in 2014. Layers of rocks at the base of Mount Sharp accumulated as sediment within ancient lakes around 3.5 billion years ago.

ALSO READ: NASA Mars rover to Study an ancient fluid-carved valley incised on the inner slope of a vast crater’s rim

Orbital infrared spectroscopy had shown that the mountain’s lowermost layers have variations in minerals.

“We went to Gale Crater to investigate these lower layers of Mount Sharp that have these minerals that precipitated from water and suggest different environments,” said Elizabeth Rampe of Nasa’s Johnson Space Center in Houston who is the first author of the study.

“These layers were deposited about 3.5 billion years ago, coinciding with a time on Earth when life was beginning to take hold. We think early Mars may have been similar to early Earth, and so these environments might have been habitable,” Rampe added.

The minerals found in the four samples drilled near the base of Mount Sharp suggest several different environments were present in ancient Gale Crater, according to the study published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

At the base are minerals from a primitive magma source; they are rich in iron and magnesium, similar to basalts in Hawaii, the data showed.

Moving higher in the section, scientists saw more silica-rich minerals.

In the “Telegraph Peak” sample, scientists found minerals similar to quartz. In the “Buckskin” sample, scientists found tridymite.

Tridymite is found on Earth in rocks that formed from partial melting of the Earth’s crust or in the continental crust — a strange finding because Mars never had plate tectonics.

In the “Confidence Hills” and “Mojave 2” samples, scientists found clay minerals, which generally form in the presence of liquid water with a near-neutral pH, and therefore could be good indicators of past environments that were conducive to life. (IANS)

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NASA’S Mars Odyssey Spacecraft Captures First Images of the Martian Moon Phobos after 16 years

Phobos has an oblong shape with an average diameter of about 22 kilometres

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Phobos
On September 29, Phobos was observed by Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) camera on Mars Odyssey orbiter, which has been launched in 2001. Pixabay

Washington, October 8, 2017 : After orbiting the Red Planet for 16 years, NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft has captured its first images of the Martian moon Phobos.

The Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) camera on Mars Odyssey orbiter, launched in 2001, observed Phobos on September 29.

Phobos has an oblong shape with an average diameter of about 22 kilometres.

Cameras on other Mars orbiters have previously taken higher-resolution images of Phobos, but none with the infrared information available from THEMIS.

Observations in multiple bands of thermal-infrared wavelengths can yield information about the mineral composition of the surface, as well as the surface texture, NASA said in a statement this week.

“Although THEMIS has been at Mars for 16 years, this was the first time we have been able to turn the spacecraft around to look at Phobos,” said THEMIS Mission Planner Jonathon Hill of Arizona State University.

The researchers combined visible-wavelength and infrared data to produce an image color-coded for surface temperatures of this moon, which has been considered for a potential future human-mission outpost, NASA said.

“This half-moon view of Phobos was chosen because it allowed us to observe a wide range of temperatures on the surface,” Hill added.

ALSO READ NASA Scientists Reveal New Information on Mars’ Formation and Evolution, Claim The Red Planet has a Porous Crust

One major question about Phobos and Mars’ even smaller moon, Deimos, is whether they are captured asteroids or bits of Mars knocked into the sky by impact.

The researchers believe that compositional information from THEMIS might help pin down their origin.

Since Odyssey began orbiting the Red Planet in 2001, THEMIS has provided compositional and thermal properties information from all over Mars, but never before imaged either Martian moon.

The September 29 observation was completed to validate that the spacecraft could safely do so, as the start of a possible series of observations of Phobos and Deimos in coming months.

“There is heightened interest in Phobos because of the possibility that future astronauts could perhaps use it as an outpost,” said Odyssey Project Scientist Jeffrey Plaut of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. (IANS)

 

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NASA Scientists Reveal New Information on Mars’ Formation and Evolution, Claim The Red Planet has a Porous Crust

NASA scientists claim the new revelations could help them better understand the interior structure and evolution of Mars

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Access Mars
Google collaborated with NASA to produce Access Mars that lets users wander the actual dunes and valleys explored by NASA's Curiosity rover.. Wikimedia

Washington, Septemeber 15, 2017 : Mars’s crust is not as dense as previously thought and a lower density likely means that at least part of the Red Planet’s crust is relatively porous, says a new NASA study.

The findings, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, provide researchers clue that could help them better understand the interior structure and evolution of Mars.

“The crust is the end-result of everything that happened during a planet’s history, so a lower density could have important implications about Mars’s formation and evolution,” said study lead author Sander Goossens of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The researchers mapped the density of the Martian crust, estimating the average density is 2,582 kgs per metre cubed. That’s comparable to the average density of the lunar crust.

Typically, Mars’s crust has been considered at least as dense as Earth’s oceanic crust, which is about 2,900 kgs per metre cubed.

The new value is derived from Mars’s gravity field, a global model that can be extracted from satellite tracking data using sophisticated mathematical tools.

Previous estimates relied more heavily on studies of the composition of Mars’s soil and rocks.

ALSO READ NASA Mars rover to Study an ancient fluid-carved valley incised on the inner slope of a vast crater’s r

“As this story comes together, we’re coming to the conclusion that it’s not enough just to know the composition of the rocks,” study co-author Greg Neumann, a planetary geologist at Goddard, said.

“We also need to know how the rocks have been reworked over time,” Neumann said.

Goossens and colleagues started with the same data used for an existing gravity model but put a new twist on it by coming up with a different constraint and applying it to obtain the new solution.

A constraint compensates for the fact that even the best data sets can’t capture every last detail.

Instead of taking the standard approach, known to those in the field as the Kaula constraint, the team created a constraint that considers the accurate measurements of Mars’s elevation changes, or topography.

“With this approach, we were able to squeeze out more information about the gravity field from the existing data sets,” said Goddard geophysicist Terence Sabaka.  (IANS)

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Heavy Rain shaped the Martian Landscape Billions of Years Ago: Study

The rain appears to have slowly changed over time, researchers said, noting that changes in the Martian atmosphere influenced how heavy the rain was, particularly the size of the raindrops.

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The Hubble Space Telescope took this close-up of Mars when it was just 88 million kilometers away. This image was assembled from a series of exposures taken over 36 hours. A new study posits that heavy rain may have once fallen on the Red Planet. (NASA). VOA

Washington DC, May 21, 2017: Heavy rain shaped the Martian landscape billions of years ago, according to a new study.

According to researchers at the Smithsonian Institution and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, rain on Mars once carved river beds and created valleys much like rain on Earth has, and does. It no longer rains on the Red Planet, and the water that remains is mostly in the form of ice.

The rain appears to have slowly changed over time, researchers said, noting that changes in the Martian atmosphere influenced how heavy the rain was, particularly the size of the raindrops.

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When Mars formed 4.5 billion years ago, it had a much thicker atmosphere and higher atmospheric pressure. Pressure, researchers say, influences the size of raindrops.

A view of the surface of Mars taken at the "Intrepid" crater by the Opportunity Mars Rover on November 11, 2010. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University)

A view of the surface of Mars taken at the “Intrepid” crater by the Opportunity Mars Rover on November 11, 2010. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University)

They say that early in the planet’s history, the rain would have actually been more like fog, so it would unlikely have made much of an impact on the terrain. But as the atmosphere thinned over time, larger raindrops could form and were heavy enough to “cut into the soil” changing the shape of craters and leading to running water that could have carved valleys.

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Specifically, researcher say the atmospheric pressure on the Red Planet was about four bars, compared to one bar on Earth today. This means the raindrops could not have been bigger than three millimeters across. Over time the pressure dropped to 1.5 bars allowing for larger drops measuring about 7.3 millimeters across.

Water-carved valleys on Mars appear to have been caused by runoff from precipitation, likely meltwater from snow. Early Martian precipitation would have fallen on mountainsides and crater rims.

Water-carved valleys on Mars appear to have been caused by runoff from precipitation, likely meltwater from snow. Early Martian precipitation would have fallen on mountainsides and crater rims.

“By using basic physical principles to understand the relationship between the atmosphere, raindrop size and rainfall intensity, we have shown that Mars would have seen some pretty big raindrops that would have been able to make more drastic changes to the surface than the earlier fog-like droplets,” said Ralph Lorenz of John Hopkins APL.(VOA)