Friday, September 12, 2014

Mars Rover Update

For those of you who are in the U.P. this weekend, you may want to think about heading over to Deer Park, MI.  The seventh annual Rock On with Lake Superior Agates show is taking place this weekend at Muskallonge State Park, which is located 20 miles east of Grand Marais (H58 to CR 407).  I will have a booth and will be also giving two lectures, one each day. 

It has been a while since I checked in with the Mars Rover, Curiosity, so I decided to do so for today's posting.  This mosaic, below was taken with a camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, that is circling above the red planet.  The photo shows the planned route (in yellow) of NASA's Curiosity rover from "Pahrump Hills" at the base of Mount Sharp, through the "Murray Formation," and south to the hematite ridge further up the flank Mount Sharp.

The image below was also taken with the rover's camera.  It shows distinct bands of alternating tone and brightness within the "Murray Formation" on Mars. Outcrops like this are common throughout the formation, although the origin of the banding is unknown. These bands may represent aqueous processes that occurred either during or after the sediments of Murray Formation were deposited.  The rover will explore these bands and try to determine their origin.

The image below shows a mesa within the "Murray Buttes" area on Mars.  This geologic formation is part of a complex fracture pattern (black arrow) protruding from the eroding rock. This mesa, which likely represents a remnant of crater floor sediments, lies on top of the sedimentary rocks of the Murray Formation. NASA's Curiosity rover will be exploring this formation.

Below is a map of lower Mount Sharp on Mars, showing the major geologic units identified from orbit. The rocks of the "Murray Formation," mapped in green, likely represent the oldest layers of Mount Sharp that NASA's Curiosity rover will explore. The Murray formation is in contact with two other major units: The sedimentary rocks of the crater floor that Curiosity has been exploring for the past two years, and the hematite ridge, a feature on Mount Sharp that shows a very distinct mineral composition from orbit. The segment A to A' corresponds to the geologic cross-section presented in the second image below.  This second graphic shows the geologic cross-section through lower Mount Sharp on Mars, corresponding to the segment A to A'.  This cross-section provides an interpretation of the geologic relationship between the "Murray Formation," the crater floor sediments, and the hematite ridge. The cross-sectional view also highlights the impressive thickness of the Murray Formation - around 650 feet (200 meters). NASA's Curiosity rover will be exploring this formation.  

The color mosaic shown below was taken by NASA's Mars Curiosity rover.  It shows strata exposed along the margins of the valleys in the "Pahrump Hills" region on Mars. The scale of layering increases upward, providing what's called a "thickening upward" trend. This is consistent with a variety of ancient environments, in particular those that involved water. 

NASA's NEOWISE mission detected comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring on July 28, 2014, less than three months before this comet's close flyby of Mars that will take place on Oct. 19th.

NEOWISE took multiple images of the comet, combined here so that the comet is seen in four different positions relative to the background stars.

The pale rocks in the foreground of the fish eye image shown below was taken on Aug. 14, 2014, during the 709th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's work on Mars. The view faces southward, looking down a ramp at the northeastern end of sandy-floored "Hidden Valley." Wheel tracks show where Curiosity drove into the valley, and back out again.  The largest of the individual flat rocks in the foreground are a few inches (several centimeters) across. For scale, the rover's left front wheel, visible at left, is 20 inches (0.5 meter) in diameter.

Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech, NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona, NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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