[meteorite-list] Curiosity Rover Fully Analyzes First Martian Soil Samples

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Mon, 3 Dec 2012 09:52:16 -0800 (PST)
Message-ID: <201212031752.qB3HqGah023166_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>

Dec. 3, 2012

Dwayne Brown
Headquarters, Washington
dwayne.c.brown at nasa.gov

Guy Webster
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
guy.webster at jpl.nasa.gov

Nancy Neal Jones
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
nancy.n.jones at nasa.gov

RELEASE: 12-415


PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has used its full
array of instruments to analyze Martian soil for the first time, and
found a complex chemistry within the Martian soil. Water and sulfur
and chlorine-containing substances, among other ingredients, showed
up in samples Curiosity's arm delivered to an analytical laboratory
inside the rover.

Detection of the substances during this early phase of the mission
demonstrates the laboratory's capability to analyze diverse soil and
rock samples over the next two years. Scientists also have been
verifying the capabilities of the rover's instruments.

The specific soil sample came from a drift of windblown dust and sand
called "Rocknest." The site lies in a relatively flat part of Gale
Crater still miles away from the rover's main destination on the
slope of a mountain called Mount Sharp. The rover's laboratory
includes the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite and the Chemistry
and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument. SAM used three methods to analyze
gases given off from the dusty sand when it was heated in a tiny
oven. One class of substances SAM checks for is organic compounds --
carbon-containing chemicals that can be ingredients for life.

"We have no definitive detection of Martian organics at this point,
but we will keep looking in the diverse environments of Gale Crater,"
said SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA's Goddard Space
Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Curiosity's APXS instrument and the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI)
camera on the rover's arm confirmed Rocknest has chemical-element
composition and textural appearance similar to sites visited by
earlier NASA Mars rovers Pathfinder, Spirit and Opportunity.
Curiosity's team selected Rocknest as the first scooping site because
it has fine sand particles suited for scrubbing interior surfaces of
the arm's sample-handling chambers. Sand was vibrated inside the
chambers to remove residue from Earth. MAHLI close-up images of
Rocknest show a dust-coated crust one or two sand grains thick,
covering dark, finer sand.

"Active drifts on Mars look darker on the surface," said MAHLI
Principal Investigator Ken Edgett of Malin Space Science Systems in
San Diego."This is an older drift that has had time to be inactive,
letting the crust form and dust accumulate on it."

CheMin's examination of Rocknest samples found the composition is
about half common volcanic minerals and half non-crystalline
materials such as glass. SAM added information about ingredients
present in much lower concentrations and about ratios of isotopes.
Isotopes are different forms of the same element and can provide
clues about environmental changes. The water seen by SAM does not
mean the drift was wet. Water molecules bound to grains of sand or
dust are not unusual, but the quantity seen was higher than

SAM tentatively identified the oxygen and chlorine compound
perchlorate. This is a reactive chemical previously found in arctic
Martian soil by NASA's Phoenix Lander. Reactions with other chemicals
heated in SAM formed chlorinated methane compounds -- one-carbon
organics that were detected by the instrument. The chlorine is of
Martian origin, but it is possible the carbon may be of Earth origin,
carried by Curiosity and detected by SAM's high sensitivity design.

"We used almost every part of our science payload examining this
drift," said Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger of the
California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "The synergies of the
instruments and richness of the data sets give us great promise for
using them at the mission's main science destination on Mount Sharp."

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity to assess
whether areas inside Gale Crater ever offered a habitable environment
for microbes. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena manages
the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about Curiosity and other Mars mission, visit:


You can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at:



Received on Mon 03 Dec 2012 12:52:16 PM PST

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