Tag: Martian surface

Postscript to the memory of Neil Armstrong

An afterthought about the adventurous spirit of man.

While the focus on the manned exploration of space has declined significantly since those days of the Apollo missions, the spirit to explore has not diminished.  This was underlined in spades by a recent post from the British blog Earth & Solar System that I have been subscribing to since a few weeks ago.

First some background to Earth & Solar System.

This blog reflects the research interests of the Isotope Cosmochemistry and Geochemistry Group at the University of Manchester.  In our laboratories we study samples from comets, interstellar dust, interplanetary dust, Mars, the moon and asteroids to understand how the Earth and the Solar System were formed, how they evolved and became what we see today.  We study the Earth and its chemistry to understand how it works, its mantle, crust, oceans and how we change it.  We want to share and discuss what we find with everyone.

The blog is for sharing science and what we and other research groups discover as we do science in real time.  Discussion, questioning and enquiry are good, but politics, and opinion that can’t be backed up by published scientific work are strictly off-limits and will be removed.

Yet another example of why integrity is the only way forward.

Anyway, the recent post that was published came into my ‘in-box’ on Monday and I wanted to share it with you.  Primarily because the mainstream media have moved on and there is little ‘news’ about NASA’s Curiosity rover.  That’s why this post is so fascinating and it’s reproduced on Learning from Dogs with the permission of Ashley King, the author.

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A busy week

Posted on September 3, 2012 by Ashley King.

The past week has seen NASAs Curiosity rover return more amazing images of the Gale crater, fire up its DAN and SAM instruments, and take its first steps towards Mt. Sharp.

Mastcam view south-west from the Bradbury landing site. The foreground is boulder-strewn and contains the edge of an impact crater. The layered rocks in the background form the base of Mt. Sharp (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS).

The new images, captured using the 100mm telephoto lens of the Mastcam, provide a glimpse of the geological treats that await scientists at the base of Mt. Sharp.  Of particular interest has been the identification of an unconformity, where two rocks in contact but of different ages indicate a break in the geological record. Satellite data suggests that the rocks lying below the unconformity contain hydrous minerals whilst those above are “dry”. It appears these rock units formed under very different environmental conditions.

Unconformity (marked by white dots) at Mt. Sharp (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS).

Next, Curiosity had another driving lesson, this time positioning itself over one of the scour marks created during landing. This allowed the rover to continue testing the ChemCam and turn on the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) instrument, which will be used to search for water below the Martian surface. The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, comprising of a mass spectrometer, gas chromatograph and tunable laser spectrometer, was also gently woken up. SAM can measure the abundance of C compounds, H, N and O, elements associated with life, in atmospheric and powdered rock samples. A quick test of some Earth air trapped in the instrument since launch confirmed that it is working well and should soon be ready for Martian samples.

Curiosity has now completed four drives and is heading for Mt. Sharp. However, the first target is Glenelg, a rock outcrop 400m to the east of the Bradbury landing site, where it’s hoped Curiosity will start using its drill. Although the journey will take several weeks, Glenelg contains at least three different rock types that will help scientists piece together the geological history of Gale crater.

Leaving the Bradbury landing site. This Navcam image shows the tracks left in the Martian soil by Curiosity (NASA/JPL-Caltech).

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Makes a nice change to forget about the goings-on here on Planet Earth!