[meteorite-list] Mars Rover Curiosity Examines Possible Mud Cracks

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu, 16 Feb 2017 13:10:27 -0800 (PST)
Message-ID: <201702162110.v1GLARfC006561_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Mars Rover Curiosity Examines Possible Mud Cracks
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
January 17, 2017

Scientists used NASA's Curiosity Mars rover in recent weeks to examine
slabs of rock cross-hatched with shallow ridges that likely originated
as cracks in drying mud.

"Mud cracks are the most likely scenario here," said Curiosity science
team member Nathan Stein. He is a graduate student at Caltech in Pasadena,
California, who led the investigation of a site called "Old Soaker," on
lower Mount Sharp, Mars.

If this interpretation holds up, these would be the first mud cracks --
technically called desiccation cracks -- confirmed by the Curiosity mission.
They would be evidence that the ancient era when these sediments were
deposited included some drying after wetter conditions. Curiosity has
found evidence of ancient lakes in older, lower-lying rock layers and
also in younger mudstone that is above Old Soaker.

"Even from a distance, we could see a pattern of four- and five-sided
polygons that don't look like fractures we've seen previously with Curiosity,"
Stein said. "It looks like what you'd see beside the road where muddy
ground has dried and cracked."

The cracked layer formed more than 3 billion years ago and was subsequently
buried by other layers of sediment, all becoming stratified rock. Later,
wind erosion stripped away the layers above Old Soaker. Material that
had filled the cracks resisted erosion better than the mudstone around
it, so the pattern from the cracking now appears as raised ridges.

The team used Curiosity to examine the crack-filling material. Cracks
that form at the surface, such as in drying mud, generally fill with windblown
dust or sand. A different type of cracking with plentiful examples found
by Curiosity occurs after sediments have hardened into rock. Pressure
from accumulation of overlying sediments can cause underground fractures
in the rock. These fractures generally have been filled by minerals delivered
by groundwater circulating through the cracks, such as bright veins of
calcium sulfate.

Both types of crack-filling material were found at Old Soaker. This may
indicate multiple generations of fracturing: mud cracks first, with sediment
accumulating in them, then a later episode of underground fracturing and
vein forming.

"If these are indeed mud cracks, they fit well with the context of what
we're seeing in the section of Mount Sharp Curiosity has been climbing
for many months," said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. "The ancient lakes varied
in depth and extent over time, and sometimes disappeared. We're seeing
more evidence of dry intervals between what had been mostly a record of
long-lived lakes."

Besides the cracks that are likely due to drying, other types of evidence
observed in the area include sandstone layers interspersed with the mudstone
layers, and the presence of a layering pattern called cross-bedding. This
pattern can form where water was flowing more vigorously near the shore
of a lake, or from windblown sediment during a dry episode.

Scientists are continuing to analyze data acquired at the possible mud
cracks and also watching for similar-looking sites. They want to check
for clues not evident at Old Soaker, such as the cross-sectional shape
of the cracks.

The rover has departed that site, heading uphill toward a future rock-drilling
location. Rover engineers at JPL are determining the best way to resume
use of the rover's drill, which began experiencing intermittent problems
last month with the mechanism that moves the drill up and down during

Curiosity landed near Mount Sharp in 2012. It reached the base of the
mountain in 2014 after successfully finding evidence on the surrounding
plains that ancient Martian lakes offered conditions that would have been
favorable for microbes if Mars has ever hosted life. Rock layers forming
the base of Mount Sharp accumulated as sediment within ancient lakes billions
of years ago.

On Mount Sharp, Curiosity is investigating how and when the habitable
ancient conditions known from the mission's earlier findings evolved into
conditions drier and less favorable for life. For more information about
Curiosity, visit:


News Media Contact
Guy Webster
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-6278 / 818-393-9011
guy.webster at jpl.nasa.gov

Laurie Cantillo / Dwayne Brown
NASA Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1077 / 202-358-1726
laura.l.cantillo at nasa.gov / dwayne.c.brown at nasa.gov

Received on Thu 16 Feb 2017 04:10:27 PM PST

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