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The Perseverance rover is collecting rock samples from Mars to bring back to Earth & More Trending News

 

Hidden within the minerals and textures that make up rocks are clues about how and once they fashioned and have been later altered. These adjustments can happen due to the presence of water-rich fluids and can also be influenced by organic processes.

We are planetary petrologists (rock scientists) and collaborating scientists on the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission. Our analysis includes exploring and decoding the info despatched back by the Perseverance rover from its touchdown web site in Jezero Crater.

A mysterious lake

Orbital photographs present that Jezero Crater was as soon as the positioning of a standing physique of water. It held a lake that was fed by water from an ~170 km-long river channel, and pictures present a delta — a fan-shaped platform of sediment — on the mouth of the channel. This delta is made up of layers of finer sediments combined with boulder-rich layers that counsel that the river stream fluctuated from comparatively calm circumstances to giant floods.

More of a thriller, nonetheless, have been rock models uncovered in Jezero Crater’s ground, the place Perseverance landed on Feb. 18, 2021. Of explicit curiosity was an enigmatic unit, recognized by the presence of olivine its spectral signatures (measurements of the quantity of radiation it displays).

A panorama of Brac, captured by the Mastcam-Z digicam system aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover between Nov. 6 and 17, 2021. The panorama is made up of a complete of 64 photographs stitched collectively after being despatched back to Earth.
(NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)

Evidence of historical past

Olivine is a vitreous, inexperienced mineral (its gem selection is peridot) that often crystallizes in high-temperature magmas. In distinction, carbonate minerals can kind from excessive to low temperatures, often from melts or fluids that will have been beneficial for all times.

The olivine-rich unit is widespread within the area past Jezero, overlaying roughly 70,000 sq. kilometres, and uncovered inside the crater simply to the north and west of Perseverance’s touchdown web site, in a area dubbed Séítah.

Séítah (which means “amidst the sand” in Navajo) is lined by a community of sand dunes, making it troublesome for the rover to navigate. However, it was thought of a compelling goal for understanding the historical past of this area of Mars and since its carbonate minerals might protect proof of historic life.

Perseverance entered Séítah in September 2021 and readily confirmed the incidence of olivine by its remote-sensing devices. The microscopic cameras noticed two- to three-millimeter olivine grains, however their origin was unknown.

On Earth, olivine grains of this measurement and form could also be concentrated by numerous geologic methods, together with as wind- or water-borne sands sourced from olivine-rich areas, explosive volcanic eruptions, materials ejected by meteorite influence, or they’ll kind as crystals in cooling magma.

Additional data was wanted to interpret the historical past of the olivine, however engineering challenges initially impeded the mission’s skill to use its X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer on Séítah rocks.

extreme close up of a rock showing a sandy grainy surface
A detailed-up of a rock named Dourbes, taken by the WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) digicam on the top of the robotic arm aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover.
(NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Sophisticated gear

XRF spectrometers have been vital devices for figuring out the basic compositions (sodium to iron, and a few hint components) of rock surfaces on Mars.

Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometers (APXS) onboard Pathfinder, the 2 Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, and the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity supplied bulk chemistries of ~1.5 cm round spots that helped geologic interpretations.

But for some Martian rocks, uncertainties have lingered about small-scale options and fantastic rock textures which might be important for decoding what minerals are current, whether or not they’re igneous or sedimentary, or their alteration histories.

The PIXL onboard Perseverance is an enormous enchancment on this regard: PIXL generates ~120 micron grid maps that not solely present rock and mineral chemistries, however textures that can be utilized to infer the origin, processes and relative timing of the varied minerals and different elements current.

The first PIXL scan of a rock floor at a Séítah outcrop known as Brac lastly nailed the unit’s origin as igneous. The olivine grains are well-formed crystals with straight edges. Other high-temperature minerals, together with feldspar, and bigger minerals enclose or happen within the areas between the olivine crystals, indicating gradual cooling of a magma.

Brac is a sort of rock known as an olivine cumulate that fashioned when olivine crystallized close to the highest of a magma, and settled and amassed downward due to its greater density. Olivine cumulates are well-known to kind on Mars as a result of they’re discovered among the many Martian meteorites, comprising a gaggle referred to as chassignites, that was ejected from Mars by an influence occasion and ultimately fell to Earth.

On Earth, olivine cumulates happen in giant layered intrusions, such because the Skaergaard Intrusion in East Greenland, and in thick lava flows, equivalent to discovered within the Abitibi, Ont. space.

Recorded video of Mars by the Perseverance rover.

Anticipating core samples

As outstanding because the PIXL scans are, Perseverance is outfitted with a really refined sampling software, which it used to gather cores of Brac. At least considered one of these core samples will possible be introduced to Earth within the early 2030s as a part of the Mars Sample Return effort.

Mars Sample Return would allow researchers at Earth-based labs to study options down to the nanoscale, which might yield details about crystallization historical past, water exercise within the rock and the way lengthy the rock was uncovered. This might present clues in regards to the historical past of life on Mars.

Radiometric isotopic analyses would assist pinpoint the timing of crystallization. Stable isotopes (H, C, N, O) would inform us in regards to the historical past of fluids on Mars. The listing goes on and on!

Returned samples would allow us to reply the questions which might be hinted at by the the current PIXL outcomes. We might then present a fuller historical past of the olivine and carbonate-rich rocks in Jezero, and what they inform us about Mars’ historical past and potential for all times.

The Perseverance rover is collecting rock samples from Mars to bring back to Earth

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The Perseverance rover is collecting rock samples from Mars to bring back to Earth

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The Perseverance rover is collecting rock samples from Mars to bring back to Earth

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