Curiosity Turns Up A Suprise In Martian Rock.

This image shows where NASA's Curiosity rover aimed two different instruments to study a rock known as "Jake Matijevic." The red dots are where the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument zapped it with its laser on Sept. 21, 2012, and Sept. 24, 2012, which were the 45th and 48th sol, or Martian day of operations. The circular black and white images were taken by ChemCam to look for the pits produced by the laser. The purple circles indicate where the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer trained its view. This image was obtained by Curiosity's Mast Camera on Sept. 22, 2012, or sol 46.

What’s new when it comes to Curiosity on Mars? Right now the first Martian rock the rover has experimented with has given us a very big surprise.

The rover has given us a look at a more varied composition than scientists expected. It resembles some Earthly counterparts found in our interior! Although it looks large in photographs, the soccer ball sized rock dubbed “Jake Matijevic” has been the subject of Curiosity’s two instruments which are testing its chemical composition. The results of this study are showing us why it is important to identify the make-up of such rocks and why it is the major focus of the mission. These samples are the representatives of planetary processes and hidden environments.

“This rock is a close match in chemical composition to an unusual but well-known type of igneous rock found in many volcanic provinces on Earth,” said Edward Stolper of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who is a Curiosity co-investigator. “With only one Martian rock of this type, it is difficult to know whether the same processes were involved, but it is a reasonable place to start thinking about its origin.”

An Earthly Connection

Here at home, rocks like Jake originate from beneath Earth’s crust – caused by processes from the mantle. They are crystalline in structure, indicative of water-rich magma at elevated pressure. According to the news release, Jake was the first rock analyzed by the rover’s arm-mounted Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) instrument and about the 30th rock examined by the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument. The two spots are roughly the diameter of your thumb-nail and were snapshotted on September 22 by the rover’s updated APXS devices which have studied hundreds of examples. This previous information has provided researchers with a wealth of information from which to draw comparisons.

“Jake is kind of an odd Martian rock,” said APXS Principal Investigator Ralf Gellert of the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. “It’s high in elements consistent with the mineral feldspar, and low in magnesium and iron.”

Msl20110526 MSL Artist Concept PIA14164-full

Rover. Artist Concept (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

ChemCam is an astounding research tool and has located unique compositions at each of 14 target points, identifying differing mineral grains at each point. “ChemCam had been seeing compositions suggestive of feldspar since August, and we’re getting closer to confirming that now with APXS data, although there are additional tests to be done,” said ChemCam Principal Investigator Roger Wiens of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Along with ChemCam, Jake has also been examined with APXS and the results compared. This gives researchers a volume of information and just checking the chemical elements is only a beginning. Curiosity also has analytical capabilities on-board to further refine the composition information from other rocks and soil – information toward which the rover is progressing during each “sol” or Martian day.

“Yestersol, we used Curiosity’s first perfectly scooped sample for cleaning the interior surfaces of our 150-micron sample-processing chambers. It’s our version of a Martian carwash,” said Chris Roumeliotis (room-eel-ee-OH-tiss), lead turret rover planner at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

However, before the rover moves on, the team will be taking a closer look at material which could be scooped up at a sandy patch labeled as “Rocknest” – an area where Curiosity is scheduled to spend about three weeks. “That first sample was perfect, just the right particle-size distribution,” said JPL’s Luther Beegle, Curiosity sampling-system scientist. “We had a lot of steps to be sure it was safe to go through with the scooping and cleaning.”

The Next Target

Once work is completed at Rocknest, the team plans to send Curiosity about 100 yards to the east and choose a rock at the location to be the first target to drill. It might take two years, but the researchers will use Curiosity’s ten instruments to find out if environmental conditions were ever favorable for microbial life.

Original Story Source: JPL NASA News Release. Submitted by Tammy Plotner for “Dave Reneke’s World of Space and Astronomy News”.


Stunning New Panorama Shows the Hazy Distant Hills of Mars

This beautiful new panorama of the Curiosity rover’s view in Gale Crater of the distant hazy hills beyond that seem to call out, begging for exploration. “FINALLY, a space probe takes a picture that shows Mars as it has burned in my mind all these years,” said Stuart Atkinson  who created this mosaic from four separate raw color images taken by the rover.

The images, just uploaded today to Earth, were taken on Sol 50 (Sept. 26, 2012) by the right MastCam on Curiosity. This provides a glimpse at the depth and distances the rover’s cameras can see, with those beckoning hills off in the distance.

Click the image to see the full, large view of the panorama. Almost enough to make you get those hiking boots out from the back of the closet! Stu not only stitched together this image but also wrote a new poem about “The Watching Hills.”


 Meteorite delivers Martian secrets to University of Alberta


A meteorite that landed in the Moroccan desert 14 months ago is providing more information about Mars, the planet where it originated. University of Alberta researcher Chris Herd helped in the study of the Tissint meteorite, in which traces of Mars’ unique atmosphere are trapped.

“Our team matched traces of gases found inside the Tissint meteorite with samples of Mars’ atmosphere collected in 1976 by Viking, NASA’s Mars lander mission,” said Herd.

Herd explained that 600 million years ago the meteorite started out as a fairly typical volcanic rock on the surface of Mars when it was launched off the planet by the impact of an asteroid.

“At the instant of that impact with Mars, a shock wave shot through the rock,” said Herd. “Cracks and fissures within the rock were sealed instantly by the heat, trapping components of Mars’ atmosphere inside, and forming black, glassy spots.”

The team estimates that for a period between 700,000 and one million years the rock floated through outer space until July, 2011 when it streaked through Earth’s atmosphere landing in Morocco.

This is only the fifth time a Martian meteorite landing was witnessed. Herd says the fact that it was picked up just a few months after landing and was not subjected to weathering or contamination on this planet is the key reason why this meteorite is so important.

The Martian weathering involved water, which means water was present on the surface of Mars within the past few hundred million years. But Herd says this meteorite sample does not carry any evidence the water supported any life forms.

“Because the Martian rock was subject to such intense heat any water borne microbial life forms that may have existed deep within cracks of the rock would have been destroyed,” said Herd.

Curiosity, NASA’s current Mars Rover mission is moving around the Red Planet searching for more information on the history of Mars.

The team’s study makes a return mission to Mars that will bring rocks back to Earth all the more crucial, “Martian rocks delivered to Earth by a space craft would provide the best opportunity to see if life was ever clinging to the surface of Mars.”Source: Mars Daily


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