Free Newsletters - Space - Defense - Environment - Energy
. Mars Exploration News .

ChemCam follows the 'Yellowknife Road' to Martian wet area
by Staff Writers
Los Alamos NM (SPX) Jan 17, 2013

The Mars Science Laboratory's Curiosity Rover recently took this photo of the Martian landscape looking toward Mount Sharp while on its way toward Yellowknife Bay-an area where researchers have found minerals indicating the past presence of water. (NASA Photo).

Researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory and the French Space Agency have tracked a trail of minerals that point to the prior presence of water at the Curiosity rover site on Mars.

Researchers from the Mars Science Laboratory's ChemCam team have described how the laser instrument aboard the Curiosity Rover-an SUV-sized vehicle studying the surface of the Red Planet-has detected veins of gypsum running through an area known as Yellowknife Bay, located some 700 meters away from where the Curiosity Rover landed five months ago.

"These veins are composed mainly of hydrated calcium sulfate, such as bassinite or gypsum," said ChemCam team member Nicolas Mangold, of the Laboratoire de Planetologie et Geodynamique de Nantes, in Nantes, France. "On Earth, forming veins like these requires water circulating in fractures."

Gypsum and some related minerals can be formed when water reacts with other rocks and minerals. The presence of gypsum and its cousin, bassinite, along with physical evidence of alluvial flow patterns previously seen during the Mars Science Laboratory mission, could indicate that the Yellowknife Bay area once was home to ponds created by runoff or subsurface water that had percolated to the surface, said ChemCam team member Sam Clegg of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Clegg and his colleagues first noticed the possibility of a gypsum signature weeks ago when ChemCam's spectrometer recorded an increasing amount of calcium and a corresponding decrease in the silicon composition of a sample. Gypsum, a sedimentary rock, is made of calcium sulfate with bound water, while most of the rocks sampled so far on Mars are primarily composed of silicon. The change in composition indicated to the team that they were seeing something new in Martian geology.

The ChemCam instrument fires a powerful laser to vaporize rocks and then uses its spectrometer to analyze the samples. Because the laser can fire several pulses to sample rock situated below layers of surface dust, the ChemCam team was able to catch their first signs of calcium before anyone could actually see it. However, the instrument's camera later was able to view the pale veins of mineral after the rock surface had been dusted off by laser blasts.

"Being able to see what we are sampling has been tremendously useful to the team and to the mission," said ChemCam team leader Roger Wiens of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

As the rover moved down into Yellowknife Bay, ChemCam's cameras as well as others aboard Curiosity have documented the increasing presence of light-colored veins of minerals that could be telltale signs that Mars was once a wet planet. Because water is a necessary ingredient of life as we know it here on Earth, the findings are exciting.

"Since the Mars Science Laboratory mission is focused on whether Mars is or was habitable, this new evidence of water on or below the planet's surface is very exciting," Wiens said. "We should be able to learn more about what we're seeing once mission scientists can use Curiosity's drill to sample some of these larger portions of material and analyze them using the CheMin instrument."

Shifting to Earth Time and Bi-Continental Control Rooms
Meanwhile, members of the ChemCam team have shifted from Mars time to Earth time and a pair of control rooms while guiding ChemCam's activities. Since November, the team has alternated operation of the instrument back and forth between control rooms in Toulouse, France, and Los Alamos, N.M.

The arrangement allows the team to communicate back and forth, while sharing direct responsibility for the instrument between the Los Alamos and French team members. The arrangement provides synergy and allows for periods of hands-on activity and much needed rest.

"This arrangement has worked out very well and has allowed for all members of the ChemCam team to participate in the mission without working themselves too hard," Wiens said.

ChemCam is a collaboration between research organizations within the United States and France. More than 45 scientists, students and other personnel are currently active in North America and Europe on the ChemCam team. A dozen scientists, engineers, and students are leading Los Alamos National Laboratory operations of ChemCam. The ChemCam system is one of 10 instruments mounted on the MSL mission's Curiosity rover.


Related Links
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Mars News and Information at
Lunar Dreams and more

Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

Ancient Water-rich Meteorite Linked to Martian Crust
Albuquerque NM (SPX) Jan 07, 2013
While the Mars' Rovers continue to scour the surface of the Red Planet snapping pictures, zapping rocks and looking at any other clues about its composition, researchers at the University of New Mexico's Institute of Meteoritics have made what could be a once in a lifetime discovery right here on Earth involving a rock delivered by an interplanetary free-ride from Mars. Led by Carl Agee, d ... read more

Russia to Launch Lunar Mission in 2015

US, Europe team up for moon fly-by

Mission would drag asteroid to the moon

Russia designs manned lunar spacecraft

China to launch 20 spacecrafts in 2013

Mr Xi in Space

China plans manned space launch in 2013: state media

China to launch manned spacecraft

ESA workhorse to power NASA's Orion spacecraft

Competition Hopes To Fine Tune ISS Solar Array Shadowing

Embassy Gathers Elite Group of Space Policy Chiefs

NASA, Bigelow Officials to Discuss ISS Expandable Module

New Horizons Gets a New Year's Workout

Halfway Between Uranus and Neptune, New Horizons Cruises On

Dwarf planet Makemake lacks atmosphere

Keck Observations Bring Weather Of Uranus Into Sharp Focus

Cassini Suggests Icing On A Lake

Frozen hydrocarbon ice on Titan's oceans?

Cassini Instrument Learns New Tricks

From Cassini for the Holidays: A Splendor Seldom Seen

Testing time for Proba-V, ESA's global vegetation tracker

MDA awarded contract to build three radar satellites

Raytheon's Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite on the Suomi NPP satellite lauded for "truly new" weather data

NASA Prepares for Launch of Next Earth Observation Satellite

Orion Teamwork Pays Off

Unilever Buys 22 Flights On XCOR Lynx Suborbiter For AXE Campaign

Iran renews plan to send monkey into space: reports

AXE to Send 22 Guys to Space with New Apollo Campaign

Earth-size planets common in galaxy

NASA's Hubble Reveals Rogue Planetary Orbit For Fomalhaut B

NASA, ESA Telescopes Find Evidence for Asteroid Belt Around Vega

Kepler Gets a Little Help From Its Friends

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement