Curiosity update: Cairn today, drill tomorrow?

NRB_611804601EDR_F0752052NCAM00353M_-br2Sol 2415, May 23, 2019, update by MSL scientist Fred Calef: After a short six meter drive to “Hallaig,” the science team began the investigation of a new potential drill target named “Broad Cairn,” a flat spot on a bright block in the clay-bearing unit. To confirm whether this location is high in potassium (K), the rover was commanded to clean off the spot with the dust removal tool (DRT), then take some close-up pictures with the MAHLI camera, followed by an APXS integration at the right time of day to maximize the data quality. Since getting the data back expeditiously was the highest priority, other science… [More at link]

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Explosive volcanism likely made olivine-rich deposit near 2020 rover landing site

Isidis_OlivineOPTOAshfall from ancient volcanic explosions is the likely source of a strange mineral deposit near the landing site for NASA’s next Mars rover, a new study finds. The research, published in the journal Geology, could help scientists assemble a timeline of volcanic activity and environmental conditions on early Mars.

“This is one of the most tangible pieces of evidence yet for the idea that explosive volcanism was more common on early Mars,” said Christopher Kremer, a graduate student at Brown University who led the work. “Understanding how important explosive volcanism was on early Mars is ultimately important for understand the water budget in Martian magma, groundwater abundance and the thickness of the atmosphere.”

Volcanic explosions happen when gases like water vapor are dissolved in underground magma. When the pressure of that dissolved gas is more than the rock above can hold, it explodes, sending a fiery cloud of ash and lava into the air. Scientists think that these kinds of eruptions should have happened very early in Martian history, when there was more water available to get mixed with magma. As the planet dried out, the volcanic explosions would have died down and given way to more effusive volcanism — a gentler oozing of lava onto the surface. There’s plenty of evidence of an effusive phase to be found on the Martian surface, but evidence of the early explosive phase hasn’t been easy to spot with orbital instruments, Kremer says… [More at links]

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HiRISE: Collapsed material on the floor of Orson Welles Crater

ESP_054899_1800Collapsed material on the floor of Orson Welles Crater. This observation captures collapsed blocks of material on floor of Orson Welles Crater. Layers and the clay minerals found in this 125-kilometer crater are evidence that it once contained a lake.

HiRISE Picture of the Day archive. [More at links]

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Curiosity: Next drill target?

2414-navcamFRB_611801944EDR_F0752052FHAZ00302M_Sol 2414, May 22, 2019. After a 6-meter (19-foot) drive to the north-northeast, the forward Hazcam (right) shows the scene as Curiosity squares up to a small flat outcrop dubbed Broad Cairn, possibly a new drill target.

Above is the Navcam view (two frames) looking down from the mast. Click either image to enlarge it.

Sol 2414 raw images (from all cameras).

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Latest weather at Gale Crater and Elysium Planitia

Daily Elysium charts and data (temperature, wind speed, atmospheric pressure) here.

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THEMIS: Arabia Terra crater in false color

Arabia Terra crater in false color (THEMIS_IOTD_20190523)THEMIS Image of the Day, May 23, 2019. Today’s false color image shows part of an unnamed crater in Arabia Terra.

The THEMIS VIS camera contains 5 filters. The data from different filters can be combined in multiple ways to create a false color image. These false color images may reveal subtle variations of the surface not easily identified in a single band image.

Explore more THEMIS Images of the Day by geological subject.


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Detecting carbonates on the martian surface

mars-mawrth-vallis-from-above-mars-expressWas Mars warm and wet enough to support life during the planet’s first few hundred million years?

Scars of ancient lakes and rivers, as well as minerals that form only when water is present, have convinced many researchers that Mars was once conducive to life. But one type of alteration mineral, carbonate, has been conspicuously scarce in some studies, raising doubts about whether there was enough carbon dioxide vapor to warm Mars’s early atmosphere.

Carbonate minerals such as calcite—the key ingredient of marble, limestone, and seashells—are formed when water traps atmospheric carbon dioxide. The pale, translucent minerals have a distinct spectral signature, which remote sensing instruments located aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter can detect. The orbiter spotted carbonates before, but in 2017, the Curiosity rover found no evidence of carbonate minerals on Mars’s surface, confounding scientists.

Now a new study based on the orbiter’s remote sensing data presents fresh evidence of carbonates mixed among hydrated minerals across Mars’s surface. Bultel et al. searched for carbonates all over Mars in weathering profiles, vertical arrays of rock that span from a few centimeters to 100 meters thick. These profiles hold clues to what the climate was like on Mars in the past because they show how rocks have lost and gained soluble elements over time. On Mars, the profiles often resemble a layer cake, with clay minerals rich in aluminum on top, iron-rich clay in the middle, and magnesium-rich clay on the bottom… [More at links]

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Curiosity update: Curiosity’s potassium ‘Special K’ campaign

NLB_611709792EDR_F0752004NCAM00375M_-br2Sol 2414, May 21, 2019, update by MSL engineer Ashley Stroupe: Curiosity is investigating an area that is very high in potassium, and we’re trying to characterize the distribution and the source of that potassium. Yesterday we did a short drive to get one of these potassium-rich rocks into our workspace – “Grampian Mountains.” While this target isn’t viable for drilling, it is a good example of this potassium-rich area, which is now in our workspace (See image). We’ll be starting out with some contact science (APXS and MAHLI) on the target. After the arm activities, there is a long targeted science block with ChemCam and Mastcam of several targets, including Grampian Mountains. “Annbank” and (to a lesser extent) “Brimmond” have similarities to the Woodland Bay block that was examined on sol 2359 (and which might be another possible drill target), so we’re examining them to make a comparison. Our fourth target is “Balintore,” which is part of our systematic bedrock survey; we’re looking for more potassium-rich bedrock… [More at link]

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Multiple former ice caps lie under the northern cap

MCC_mars_global_smallScientists have discovered remnants of ancient ice sheets buried in sand a mile beneath Mars’s north pole, they report in a new study. The findings show conclusive evidence of the waxing and waning of polar ice on the red planet due to changes in its orbit and tilt, according to the study’s authors.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Arizona made the discovery using measurements gathered by the Shallow Radar (SHARAD) instrument on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. SHARAD emits radar waves that can penetrate up to a mile and a half beneath Mars’s surface.

The new findings, published today in AGU’s journal Geophysical Research Letters, are important because the layers of ice are a record of past climate on Mars in much the same way that tree rings are a record of past climate on Earth, according to the researchers. Studying the geometry and composition of these layers could tell scientists whether climate conditions were previously favorable for life.

The team found layers of sand and ice that were as much as 90 percent water in some places. If melted, the newly discovered ice would be equivalent to a global layer of water around Mars at least 1.5 meters (5 feet) deep, which could be one of the largest water reservoirs on the planet, according to the researchers.

“We didn’t expect to find this much water ice here,” said Stefano Nerozzi, a graduate research assistant at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics (UTIG) and lead author of the new study. “That likely makes it the third largest water reservoir on Mars after the polar ice caps.” [More at links]

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MARCI weather report, May 13-19, 2019

MARCI-May-16-2019Afternoon condensate water-ice clouds continued to be the dominant feature over all the major Martian volcanoes this past week. A few arcuate dust storms were observed along the edge of the seasonal north polar ice cap. On the other side of the red planet, transient dust storms and water-ice clouds were spotted over the mid-to-high southern latitudes throughout the week… [More at link, including video]

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