Tuesday November 19, 2019

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)

Next Story

NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover, Latest Robotic Mission to Explore Ancient Life on Red Planet

When it is launched in July 2020, the spacecraft will carry the latest scientific and engineering tools

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NASA's 2020 Mars rover to have 23 'eyes'. Pixabay

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover, its latest robotic mission to the Red Planet, will include technology to explore ancient life on Mars, according to the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The goal of the Mars 2020 rover is to look for signs of ancient life.

It will be the first spacecraft to collect samples of the Martian surface, caching them in tubes that could be returned to Earth on a future mission, Xinhua news agency reported on Thursday. The atmosphere on Mars is mostly carbon dioxide and extremely thin, about 100 times less dense than the Earth’s, with no breathable oxygen.

There’s no water on the surface and the landscape is freezing, with no protection from the Sun’s radiation or from passing dust storms. The key to survival will be technology, research and testing, said JPL, adding Mars 2020 will help on all those fronts.

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The next Mars close approach will be on October 6, 2020. Pixabay

When it is launched in July 2020, the spacecraft will carry the latest scientific and engineering tools. Before touchdown on Mars, sensors in the spacecraft’s aeroshell, the capsule that encloses the rover, will study how it heats up and performs during atmospheric entry. The rover has a guidance system that will take a step toward safer landings.

ALSO READ: NASA Renames Washington Headquarter Street Block “Hidden Figures Way” in Honor of Black Women

Called Terrain Relative Navigation, this new system figures out where the spacecraft is headed by taking camera images during descent and matching landmarks in them to a pre-loaded map.If the spacecraft drifts toward dangerous terrain, it will divert to a safer landing target. Living on Mars will require a steady supply of oxygen.

A cube-shaped device, called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, is exploring a space-saving alternative that converts carbon dioxide into oxygen. Mars 2020 will carry a ground-penetrating radar to Mars, which will be the first operated at the Martian surface. Scientists will use its high-resolution images to look at buried geology, like ancient lake beds. The rover will also collect science that may help engineers design better shelters for future astronauts, said JPL.  (IANS)