The rover Curiosity of NASA has completed the first experiments showing that the mineralogy of the Martian soil is similar to basaltic volcanic soils in Hawaii . The minerals were identified in the first sample of Martian soil analyzed inside the rover.
Curiosity instrument used his chemistry and mineralogy (Chemin) to obtain results that are clearing doubts and provide confidence on previous estimates of the mineralogical composition of the fine dust and dirt spread on the red planet. “We had many previous discussions about the mineralogy of the Martian soil,” said David Blake, the Ames Research Center of NASA , CheMin principal investigator. “Our results provide a refined quantitative and in some cases new identifications of minerals in the first analyzes of X-ray diffraction on Mars.”
The identification of minerals in rocks and soil is essential to the mission objective to assess past environmental conditions. Each mineral records the conditions in which it formed.
The chemical composition of a rock mineralogical information provides only ambiguous, as in the textbook example of diamond and graphite, which have the same chemical composition, but strikingly different structures and properties. CheMin uses X-ray diffraction, standard practice for geologists on Earth using laboratory instruments.
This method provides more precise identification of minerals that any method used previously in Mars. The X-ray diffraction reads the internal structure of the minerals. Innovations in Ames carried an instrument X-ray diffraction compact enough to fit inside the rover.
The sample for the first specific analysis Curiosisty CheMin was picked up by a patch of dust and sand that the team has called Rocknest . The sample was processed through a sieve to exclude particles larger than 0.006 inches (150 micrometers), approximately the width of a human hair.
The sample has at least two components globally distributed dust in dust storms caused more sandy and locally. Unlike conglomerate rocks analyzed by Curiosity few weeks ago, they have billions of years old, and are indicative of water flow, soil material that has analyzed CheMin is more representative of modern processes on Mars.
“Much of Mars is covered with dust, and we had an incomplete understanding of their mineralogy,” said David Bish, Chemin co-investigator at the University of Indiana in Bloomington. “Now we know that is mineralogically similar to basaltic material, with significant amounts of feldspar, pyroxene and olivine, which was not unexpected.
About half of the area is composed of non-crystalline materials such as volcanic glass. “Bish said:” So far, Curiosity has analyzed the materials that are consistent with our initial ideas Gale crater deposits registering a transition through From time to dry a wet environment. Ancient rocks such as conglomerates, suggest that flowing water, while the minerals in the soil youngest are consistent with limited interaction with the water. “
During the two-year primary mission of the Mars Science Laboratory project, researchers will use the 10 instruments on Curiosity to investigate whether areas in Gale Crater ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.