Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mars Curisoty Update

Temperatures continue to be cold not only in Grand Marais, but throughout the Midwest.  Ambient temperatures this morning in Grand Marais hover around the zero mark.  Winds are not as intense, but still a factor causing the wind chills to be around twenty below.  Lake effect snow also continues.  We are supposed to get around another foot or so over the next day or so.

It has been a while since I have checked in with what is going on with the Mars rover, Curiosity. 

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is driving toward a flat rock with pale veins that may hold clues to a wet history on the Red Planet. If the rock meets rover engineers' approval when Curiosity rolls up to it in coming days, it will become the first to be drilled for a sample during the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

The size of a car, Curiosity is inside Mars' Gale Crater investigating whether the planet ever offered an environment favorable for microbial life. Curiosity landed in the crater five months ago to begin its two-year prime mission.

Drilling into a rock to collect a sample will be this mission's most challenging activity since the landing. It has never been done on Mars.

Curiosity first will gather powdered samples from inside the rock and use those to scrub the drill. Then the rover will drill and ingest more samples from this rock, which it will analyze for information about its mineral and chemical composition.

The chosen rock is in an area where Curiosity's cameras have revealed diverse unexpected features including veins, nodules, cross-bedded layering, a lustrous pebble embedded in sandstone, and possibly some holes in the ground. These veins form when water circulates through fractures, depositing minerals along the sides of the fracture, to form a vein.

This image shows show well-defined veins filled with whitish minerals, interpreted as calcium sulfate. The target is on flat-lying bedrock within a shallow depression called "Yellowknife Bay." The terrain in this area differs from that of the landing site, a dry stream bed about a third of a mile (about 500 meters) to the west. Curiosity's science team decided to look there for a first drilling target because orbital observations showed fractured ground that cools more slowly each night than nearby terrain types do.

These veins are likely composed of hydrated calcium sulfate, such as bassinite or gypsum. On Earth, forming veins like these requires water circulating in fractures.

Researchers have used the rover's equipment to examine sedimentary rocks in the area. Some are sandstone, with grains up to about peppercorn size. One grain has an interesting gleam and bud-like shape that have brought it Internet buzz as a "Martian flower." Other rocks nearby are siltstone, with grains finer than powdered sugar. These differ significantly from pebbly conglomerate rocks in the landing area.

All of these are sedimentary rocks, telling us Mars had environments actively depositing material here. The different grain sizes tell us about different transport conditions.

The reason why this investigation is so exciting is because where there was water, there could have been life. 

I have worked the last two days on redoing the photographs for the last segment.  I edited the photos yesterday and loaded half of them.  I am more than half way done with the last segment.  I am excited, but anxious, about launching the online rockhounding adventures. 

CITE:  http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/images/?s=26

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