Curiosity's View of 'Paraitepuy Pass': NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used its Mast Camera, or Mastcam, to capture this panorama while driving toward the center of this scene, an area that forms the narrow “Paraitepuy Pass” on Aug. 14, the 3,563rd Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›
The rover has arrived at a special region believed to have formed as Mars’ climate was drying.
After journeying this summer through a narrow, sand-lined pass, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover recently arrived in the “sulfate-bearing unit,” a long-sought region of Mount Sharp enriched with salty minerals.
Scientists hypothesize that billions of years ago, streams, and ponds left behind the minerals as the water dried up. Assuming the hypothesis is correct, these minerals offer tantalizing clues as to how – and why – the Red Planet’s climate changed from being more Earth-like to the frozen desert it is today.
The minerals were spotted by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter years before Curiosity landed in 2012, so scientists have been waiting a long time to see this terrain up close. Soon after arriving, the rover discovered a diverse array of rock types and signs of past water, among them popcorn-textured nodules and salty minerals such as magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt is one kind), calcium sulfate (including gypsum), and sodium chloride (ordinary table salt).
Curiosity's View of Sand Ridges and 'Bolívar': NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used its Mast Camera, or Mastcam, to capture this panorama of a hill nicknamed "Bolivar" and adjacent sand ridges on Aug. 23, the 3,572nd Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›
They selected a rock nicknamed “Canaima” for the mission's 36th drill sample, and choosing was no easy task. Along with scientific considerations, the team had to factor in the rover hardware. Curiosity uses a percussive, or jackhammering, rotary drill at the end of its 7-foot (2-meter) arm to pulverize rock samples for analysis. Worn brakes on the arm recently led the team to conclude that some harder rocks may require too much hammering to drill safely.
“As we do before every drill, we brushed away the dust and then poked the top surface of Canaima with the drill. The lack of scratch marks or indentations was an indication that it may prove difficult to drill,” said Curiosity’s new project manager, Kathya Zamora-Garcia of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “We paused to consider whether that posed any risk to our arm. With the new drilling algorithm, created to minimize the use of percussion, we felt comfortable collecting a sample of Canaima. As it turned out, no percussion was needed.”
The mission’s scientists look forward to analyzing portions of the sample with the Chemical and Minerology instrument (CheMin) and the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument (SAM).
Curiosity's 36 Drill Holes: This grid shows all 36 holes drilled by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover using the drill on the end of its robotic arm. The rover analyzes powderized rock from the drilling activities. The images in the grid were captured by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on the end of Curiosity’s arm. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›
The journey to the sulfate-rich region took Curiosity through treacherous terrain, including, this past August, the sandy “Paraitepuy Pass,” which snakes between high hills. It took the rover more than a month to safely navigate in order to finally reach its destination.
While sharp rocks can damage Curiosity’s wheels (which have plenty of life left in them), sand can be just as hazardous, potentially causing the rover to get stuck if the wheels lose traction. Rover drivers need to carefully navigate these areas.
The hills blocked Curiosity’s view of the sky, requiring the rover to be carefully oriented based on where it could point its antennas toward Earth and how long it could communicate with orbiters passing overhead.
Curiosity's 36th Drill Hole at 'Canaima': Curiosity used its Mast Camera, or Mastcam, to capture this image of its 36th successful drill hole on Mount Sharp, at a rock called “Canaima.” The rovers Mars Hand Lens Imager took the inset image. The pulverized rock sample was acquired on Oct. 3, 2022, the mission’s 3,612th Martian day, or sol. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›
After braving those risks, the team was rewarded with some of the most inspiring scenery of the mission, which the rover captured with an Aug. 14 panorama using its Mast Camera, or Mastcam.
“We would get new images every morning and just be in awe,” said Elena Amador-French of JPL, Curiosity’s science operations coordinator, who manages collaboration between the science and engineering teams. “The sand ridges were gorgeous. You see perfect little rover tracks on them. And the cliffs were beautiful – we got really close to the walls.”
But this new region comes with its own challenges: While scientifically compelling, the rockier terrain makes it harder to find a place where all six of Curiosity’s wheels are on stable ground. If the rover isn’t stable, engineers won’t risk unstowing the arm, in case it might bang into the jagged rocks.
“The more and more interesting the science results get, the more obstacles Mars seems to throw at us,” Amador-French said.
But the rover, which recently marked its 10th year on Mars, and its team are ready for this next chapter of their adventure.
More About Curiosity
The Curiosity mission is led by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is managed by Caltech in Pasadena, California. JPL leads the mission on behalf of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego built and operates Mastcam.
For more about Curiosity, visit:
The Perseverance rover may have just found evidence of organic compounds in the rocks of the Jezero Crater.
Previous studies have found evidence of organic compounds on Mars before. The Curiosity rover and the Mars Express orbiter both returned evidence thereof, as has data from Perseverance. None of it necessarily implies some kind of biology – a variety of geological phenomena can facilitate carbon-based chemistry, after all.
But studying these compounds in greater detail could reveal more about the water history of Mars, and whether or not the Red Planet could have at least once played host to some kind of living processes.
Obtained from two different sites in the crater, the minerals contain evidence of aquatic processes that carve out perfect little hollows for cooking up some organic chemistry. Based on one kind of analysis, they may even contain traces of carbon-based compounds.
The Jezero Crater was, many eons ago, a much wetter place than it is today. There are still traces of the ancient river delta that once fanned out across the crater floor. Interactions between water and rock can result in the formation of organic compounds of the kind already found in the ancient delta.
However, whether there are also organic compounds elsewhere on the crater floor has been an open question. Scientists expected that the rock found therein would largely be sedimentary, deposited by water long ago – but, when Perseverance arrived, we learnt that much of the crater floor was volcanic, not sedimentary.
Using Perseverance's Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC) instrument, an international team led by planetary scientist Eva Scheller of Caltech and MIT conducted a probe of igneous rocks in the crater floor.
They used deep ultraviolet Raman and fluorescence spectroscopy on three rocks from two sites in the crater, and found signs that significant contact with water had altered the rocks.
There was evidence of two kinds of alteration, which suggested two distinct different aqueous environments, at different times in the distant past.
First, reactions with liquid water resulted in the formation of carbonates in igneous rock that was rich in olivine around 3.8 to 2.7 billion years ago.
Later, between around 2.6 to 2.3 billion years ago, briny water rich in salt could have induced the formation of sulfate-perchlorate (salt) mixes in the rocks.
Both carbonates and perchlorates require water to enter the rocks, dissolving and depositing minerals in hollows carved out by water erosion. It's unlikely that water has touched the rocks since the perchlorates were deposited, as perchlorates dissolve easily.
In all three of the rocks, the team found fluorescence signatures consistent with aromatic organic compounds similar to benzene. These seem to be preserved in minerals related to both aqueous environments, the researchers say, but we can't yet tell what they are.
"Collectively, the data show the drilled samples collected by Perseverance from the floor of Jezero crater are likely to contain evidence for carbonation and formation of sulfates and perchlorates," they write in their paper.
"Fluorescence signatures consistent with organics present within these materials indicates an interplay between igneous rocks, aqueous alteration, and organic material on Mars."
Perseverance has long since moved on from the sites at which these data collections were conducted. Fortunately it also collected samples of the rocks themselves, in the event they might be ferried home to Earth later on a mission that has yet to launch.
"I hope that one day these samples could be returned to Earth so that we can look at the evidence of water and possible organic matter, and explore whether conditions were right for life in the early history of Mars," says geochemist Mark Sephton of Imperial College London in the UK.
So it'll be a while until we have the confirmation we crave. But getting those rocks into an Earth laboratory, with equipment capable of studying the compounds in detail, could tell us more about the past habitability, or non-habitability, of Mars.
In the meantime, Perseverance, continuing its slow perusal of the Jezero Crater, may pick up some stronger clues.
We just have to wait and see.
The research has been published in Science.
Perseverance has captured the sound of dust grains impacting the NASA rover, and the recording could be key to understanding how dust is transported around Mars.
The recording comes from a microphone on the Perseverance rover's SuperCam instrument on Sept. 27, 2021, during sol 215 of the rover's mission. (A sol is a Martian day and about 40 minutes longer than a day on Earth.) Other instruments also detected the dust devil, which features in images from Perseverance's NavCam and temperature and pressure measurements from Perseverance's Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA). Plus, the scientists were able to use the microphone to accurately measure wind speeds based on the intensity of the sound of the gusts.
The rover had already detected 90 dust devils passing overhead, but this event was the first time Perseverance was fortunate enough to have its microphone switched on at the time.
"With this dust-devil recording, we can actually hear and count particles impacting the rover," Naomi Murdoch, a planetary scientist at the Institut Supérieur de l'Aéronautique et de l'Espace (ISAE–SUPAERO) at the University of Toulouse in France and lead author of the study, told Space.com.
Related: Mars dust storm mysteries remain as scientists study the Red Planet
A dust devil swirls across the landscape in Jezero Crater. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)
Taking everything into account — the audio recording, the images, and the temperature and pressure measurements — Murdoch and her colleagues determined that the dust devil was about 82 feet (25 meters) across and at least 387 feet (118 m) tall, moving at 17 feet (5.3 m) per second.
Based on the number of impacts, the sound recordings quantified for the first time ever the wind-blown dust grains in a dust devil. The recording includes a total of 308 impacts on the rover from dust grains carried by the winds of the dust devil, and these impacts were distributed in three bunches. The first group occurred when the whirling leading edge of the dust devil started passing over Perseverance, and the third group came when the trailing edge reached the rover, with concentrations of dust in the walls of the vortex.
However, the most impacts by far occurred when the low-pressure center of the vortex was swirling above Perseverance, which came as a puzzling surprise.
Ordinarily, one would expect most of the dust to be concentrated in the walls of the dust devil, where the wind speeds are high. The center of a dust devil, like the eye of a storm, should, in comparison to the vortex's walls, be relatively calm and clear.
In this particular dust devil, however, there seemed to be a concentration of dust in the middle of the vortex. And the oddity wasn't a fluke in the recording since Perseverance's NavCam also spotted this internal dust.
"This particular dust devil is unusual even for Mars," Murdoch said. "We aren't entirely sure why the dust has accumulated in the center, but it may be because the dust devil is still in its initial phase of formation."
Perseverance's landing site, Jezero Crater, lies near one of the tracks of the big seasonal dust storms and experiences an abundance of dust devils compared to Elysium Planitia, where NASA's InSight lander touched down in November 2018; that spacecraft hasn't detected a single dust devil to date.
NASA’s InSight Rover domed seismometer measured Mars’s largest quake. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Late on the Earth night of May 4, or Sol 1222 on Mars, the seismometer aboard NASA's InSight Mars Lander detected a quake on the Red Planet, with reverberations lasting many hours. The marsquake was at least five times as large as the next largest quake recorded on the planet, according to new research published Wednesday in Geophysical Research Letters. Additional research related to the record marsquake is also being presented this week at AGU's Fall Meeting, in Chicago from 12 to 16 December and online everywhere.
"This was definitely the biggest marsquake that we have seen," said Taichi Kawamura, lead author and planetary scientist at the Institut de physique du globe de Paris, France. Kawamura is co-leader, along with co-author and seismologist John Clinton at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich, of the marsquake service (MQS), an international team that monitors and evaluates the seismological data recorded by the NASA InSight Mars Lander.
"The energy released by this single marsquake is equivalent to the cumulative energy from all other marsquakes we've seen so far, and although the event was over 2000 kilometers (1200 miles) distant, the waves recorded at InSight were so large they almost saturated our seismometer," said Clinton.
Seismology on Mars can give scientists a better idea about what lies under the planet's surface—including water—and how its crust and deep interior are structured. Like on Earth, most detected marsquakes are thought to occur due to fault movements.
The largest previous marsquake, recorded in August 2021 (Sol 976 on Mars), was around a magnitude of 4.2, while the May quake had a magnitude of 4.7. (marsquake magnitudes are comparable to those of earthquakes.)
"For the first time we were able to identify surface waves, moving along the crust and upper mantle, that have traveled around the planet multiple times," Clinton noted.
This paper is accompanied by two additional papers, also published Wednesday in Geophysical Research Letters, which cover the quake's surface wave paths and velocities.
The waves from the record-breaking quake lasted about 10 hours—quite a while, considering no previous marsquakes exceeded an hour.
It was also curious because the epicenter was close to but outside the Cerberus Fossae region, which is the most seismically active region on the Red Planet. The epicenter did not appear to be obviously related to known geologic features, although a deep epicenter could be related to hidden features lower in the crust.
Marsquakes are often divided into two different types—those with high-frequency waves characterized by rapid but shorter vibrations, and those of low-frequency, when the surface moves slowly but with larger amplitude. This recent seismic event is rare in that it exhibited characteristics of both high- and low-frequency quakes. Further research might reveal that previously recorded low- and high-frequency quakes are merely two aspects of the same thing, Kawamura said.
The new research is the first to describe and analyze the data from this large quake, which were released by the Mars Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) data service, NASA Planetary Data System (PDS) and the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS), together with the MQS catalog, in early October.
InSight is thought to be near its operational end because dust has progressively covered its solar panels and reduced its power during the four years since its landing in November 2018. "We are impressed that almost at the end of the extended mission, we had this very remarkable event," Kawamura said. Based on the data gathered from this quake, "I would say this mission was an extraordinary success," he continued.
Kawamura said this publication is the first of a number of papers, both from his team and from partners, including NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, ETH Zurich, France's National Centre for Space Studies and UCLA that will be published in AGU's special collection on the event.
Just as seismological research helps geologists learn about the evolution of Earth, this kind of data can help planetary scientists understand more about the evolution of the Red Planet, Kawamura said.
"Stay tuned for more exciting stuff following this," Kawamura said.
Если местами и на куда более активной геологически Земле эти признаки находятся относительно легко - то какие проблемы с Марсом, где они должны сохраняться гораздо лучше?Год тут не был, после начала войны.
С января прошлого года, и ... всего одна страница с тех пор.
Ну конечно, вот так эти признаки до сих пор, спустя три с половиной миллиарда лет, и находятся прямо на поверхности Марса.
Ну там, и геологическая активность, и атмосфера менее плотная, и всё такое прочее.
Если местами и на куда более активной геологически Земле эти признаки находятся относительно легко - то какие проблемы с Марсом, где они должны сохраняться гораздо лучше?
Ну так и среда окружающая далеко не так агрессивна - вода либо замёрзла либо испарилась, атмосферы почти нет (ровно настолько чтоб мелкие метеоры до поверхности не долетали)...Тут же речь идёт мало того, что о сроке на порядок большем, так ещё и инструменты исследования на порядки уступают земным возможностям, в силу объективных причин.