Science & Technology

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Reviews Again on “Most Chemically Diverse Part” of Gale Crater on Mars


Ben Hee Rock

An picture of a rock known as “Ben Hee,” taken with the ChemCam instrument. It exhibits bedrock crammed with darkish nodules, which normally kind in gentle sediments present in lively lakes on Earth. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/LANL/IRAP-CNES

ChemCam performed a key position in analyzing new knowledge.

The first research of the Glen Torridon area in Mars’ Gale crater reveals that groundwater altered the bedrock within the space in the course of the planet’s early historical past, which has essential implications for understanding previous habitability and the probability of discovering previous life on Mars. The findings, which had been printed in a particular situation of the Journal of Geophysical Research Planets, reveal among the early discoveries from the Glen Torridon area.

“The primary reason that the rover was sent to Mars was to investigate this region so we can understand the transition from an early, warm and wet Mars to a cold and dry one,” mentioned Patrick Gasda, of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Space and Remote Sensing group and lead creator on the research. “This region probably represents the last stages of a wet Mars, and we want to understand the lake sediments in order to give us a baseline for what happened right before Mars’ climate changed. It turns out this was a very active time in Mars’ history.”

Mary Anning Mars Curiosity Selfie

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover took this selfie at a location nicknamed “Mary Anning” after a Nineteenth-century English paleontologist. Curiosity snagged three samples of drilled rock at this web site on its approach out of the Glen Torridon area, which scientists imagine preserves an historic liveable atmosphere. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The NASA Curiosity rover explored the traditional lakebed rocks inside the Glen Torridon area from January 2019 to January 2021. During that point, the rover noticed indicators that the bedrock was modified by groundwater, particularly within the greater elevations alongside the rover’s path. The rover additionally found a surprisingly excessive variety of nodules, veins, and different options associated to water alteration of the bedrock.

The analysis group used knowledge from the rover’s ChemCam instrument, which was developed at Los Alamos and CNES (the French house company), to report chemistry and pictures from the 4 cameras on the rover to be able to search for bodily and chemical adjustments to the rocks.

“First we saw a large number of dark-toned, rounded ‘nodules’ throughout the rock, and these features usually form in the soft sediments that are found in active lakes on Earth, so that’s likely how they formed on Mars,” Gasda mentioned.

Then the rover noticed massive darkish and white veins with unusual chemistry, together with excessive iron and manganese darkish veins, and fluorine-rich lighter veins.

“These veins are very perplexing. We think, in the early stages of the crater, when the initial impact heated the rocks surrounding the crater, groundwater flowed through those rocks. We think this hot water likely extracted elements such as fluorine from these rocks,” Gasda mentioned. “High concentrations of fluorine are usually only found in hydrothermal systems on Earth. We did not expect to find veins with chemistry like this in Glen Torridon.”

These hydrothermal techniques may assist researchers higher perceive habitability and prebiotic chemistry on Mars.

“If hydrothermal systems like these were active during the time of the lake, as we hypothesized in the paper, it would be very exciting,” Gasda mentioned.

These techniques would carry redox parts (together with iron, nickel, sulfur, and manganese) to the floor of Mars, and microbes use these parts to derive vitality. On Earth, deep sea hydrothermal vents can produce hydrogen and methane gasoline, and a few extra difficult natural molecules; these are locations that would have synthesized the essential constructing blocks of life on historic Earth.

“The possibility of this existing on Mars is very cool,” Gasda mentioned.

These veins could also be related to different veins and nodules with enigmatic chemistry which were discovered all through the crater earlier within the mission. It could possibly be that the crater was altered on a bigger scale with groundwater that was associated to the preliminary influence of the crater.

The rock beneath the crater probably remained hotter for longer than researchers initially thought, which might account for the upper focus of parts equivalent to fluorine within the groundwater. This groundwater may have circulated extensively within the crater, forming different veins of various chemistry for a very long time after the crater initially fashioned.

Reference: Overview of the Morphology and Chemistry of Diagenetic Features within the Clay-Rich Glen Torridon Unit of Gale Crater, Mars” by Patrick J. Gasda, J. Comellas, A. Essunfeld, D. Das, A. B. Bryk, E. Dehouck, S. P. Schwenzer, L. Crossey, Ok. Herkenhoff, J. R. Johnson, H. Newsom, N. L. Lanza, W. Rapin, W. Goetz, P.-Y. Meslin, J. C. Bridges, R. Anderson, G. David, S. M. R. Turner, M. T. Thorpe, L. Kah, J. Frydenvang, R. Kronyak, G. Caravaca, A. Ollila, S. Le Mouélic, M. Nellessen, M. Hoffman, D. Fey, A. Cousin, R. C. Wiens, S. M. Clegg, S. Maurice, O. Gasnault, D. Delapp and A. Reyes-Newell, 21 April 2022, Journal of Geophysical Research Planets.
DOI: 10.1029/2021JE007097

Funding: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory





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