Space

October 31, 2012

NASA rover’s first soil studies help fingerprint Martian minerals

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has completed initial experiments showing the mineralogy of Martian soil is similar to weathered basaltic soils of volcanic origin in Hawaii.

The minerals were identified in the first sample of Martian soil ingested recently by the rover. Curiosity used its Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin) to obtain the results, which are filling gaps and adding confidence to earlier estimates of the mineralogical makeup of the dust and fine soil widespread on the Red Planet.

“We had many previous inferences and discussions about the mineralogy of Martian soil,” said David Blake of NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., who is the principal investigator for CheMin. “Our quantitative results provide refined and in some cases new identifications of the minerals in this first X-ray diffraction analysis on Mars.”

The identification of minerals in rocks and soil is crucial for the mission’s goal to assess past environmental conditions. Each mineral records the conditions under which it formed. The chemical composition of a rock provides only ambiguous mineralogical information, as in the textbook example of the minerals diamond and graphite, which have the same chemical composition, but strikingly different structures and properties.

CheMin uses X-ray diffraction, the standard practice for geologists on Earth using much larger laboratory instruments. This method provides more accurate identifications of minerals than any method previously used on Mars. X-ray diffraction reads minerals’ internal structure by recording how their crystals distinctively interact with X-rays. Innovations from Ames led to an X-ray diffraction instrument compact enough to fit inside the rover.

These NASA technological advances have resulted in other applications on Earth, including compact and portable X-ray diffraction equipment for oil and gas exploration, analysis of archaeological objects and screening of counterfeit pharmaceuticals, among other uses.

“Our team is elated with these first results from our instrument,” said Blake. “They heighten our anticipation for future CheMin analyses in the months and miles ahead for Curiosity.”

The specific sample for CheMin’s first analysis was soil Curiosity scooped up at a patch of dust and sand that the team named Rocknest. The sample was processed through a sieve to exclude particles larger than 0.006 inch (150 micrometers), roughly the width of a human hair. The sample has at least two components: dust distributed globally in dust storms and fine sand originating more locally. Unlike conglomerate rocks Curiosity investigated a few weeks ago, which are several billion years old and indicative of flowing water, the soil material CheMin has analyzed is more representative of modern processes on Mars.

“Much of Mars is covered with dust, and we had an incomplete understanding of its mineralogy,” said David Bish, CheMin co-investigator with Indiana University in Bloomington. “We now know it is mineralogically similar to basaltic material, with significant amounts of feldspar, pyroxene and olivine, which was not unexpected. Roughly half the soil is non-crystalline material, such as volcanic glass or products from weathering of the glass.”

Bish said, “So far, the materials Curiosity has analyzed are consistent with our initial ideas of the deposits in Gale Crater recording a transition through time from a wet to dry environment. The ancient rocks, such as the conglomerates, suggest flowing water, while the minerals in the younger soil are consistent with limited interaction with water.”

During the two-year prime mission of the Mars Science Laboratory Project, researchers are using Curiosity’s 10 instruments to investigate whether areas in Gale Crater ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, and built Curiosity and CheMin.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines July 7, 2015

News: F-35 loses dogfight to fighter jet from 1980s – A new report alleges that an F-35A was defeated by the very aircraft it is meant to replace.   Business: South Korea selects Airbus for $1.33 billion tanker contract – European aerospace giant Airbus won a $1.33 billion deal June 30 to supply air refueling...
 
 
U.S. Chamber of Commerce photograph

Boeing, Embraer to collaborate on ecoDemonstrator technology tests

U.S. Chamber of Commerce photograph Frederico Curado, president & CEO of Embraer, and Marc Allen, president of Boeing International, at the Brazil-U.S. Business Summit in Washington, D.C. The event occurred during an offici...
 
 
Untitled-2

Tactical reconnaissance vehicle project eyes hoverbike for defense

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory, or ARL, has been exploring the tactical reconnaissance vehicle, or TRV, concept for nearly nine months and is evaluating the hoverbike technology as a way to get Soldiers away from ground thre...
 

 
Air Force photograph by SSgt. William Banton

Upgraded AWACS platform tested at Northern Edge

Air Force photograph by SSgt. William Banton Maintenance crew members prepare an E-3G Sentry (AWACS) for takeoff during exercise Northern Edge June 25, 2015. Roughly 6,000 airmen, soldiers, sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen ...
 
 
LM-Legion

Lockheed Martin’s Legion Pod™ takes to skies

Lockheed Martin photograph by Randy Crites Lockheed Martin’s Legion Pod recently completed its first flight test, successfully tracking multiple airborne targets while flying on an F-16 in Fort Worth, Texas. Legion Pod was in...
 
 
Air Force photograph by SSgt. Marleah Robertson

First Marine graduates Air Force’s F-35 intelligence course

Air Force photograph by SSgt. Marleah Robertson Marine Corps 1st Lt. Samuel Winsted, an F-35B Lightning II intelligence officer, provides a mock intelligence briefing to two instructors during the F-35 Intelligence Formal Train...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>