[meteorite-list] Curiosity Mars Rover Begins Study of Ridge Destination

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Fri, 18 Aug 2017 16:09:50 -0700 (PDT)
Message-ID: <201708182309.v7IN9obg022794_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Curiosity Mars Rover Begins Study of Ridge Destination
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
July 11, 2017

The car-size NASA rover on a Martian mountain, Curiosity, has begun its
long-anticipated study of an iron-bearing ridge forming a distinctive
layer on the mountain's slope.

Since before Curiosity's landing five years ago next month, this feature
has been recognized as one of four unique terrains on lower Mount Sharp
and therefore a key mission destination. Curiosity's science team informally
named it "Vera Rubin Ridge" this year, commemorating astronomer Vera Cooper
Rubin (1928-2016).

"Our Vera Rubin Ridge campaign has begun," said Curiosity Project Scientist
Ashwin Vasavada of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
"Curiosity is driving parallel to the ridge, below it, observing it from
different angles as we work our way toward a safe route to the top of
the ridge."

A major appeal of the ridge is an iron-oxide mineral, hematite, which
can form under wet conditions and reveal information about ancient environments.
Hematite-bearing rocks elsewhere on Mars were the scientific basis for
choosing the 2004 landing site of an older and still-active rover, Opportunity.
Studies of Mount Sharp with the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer
for Mars, on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, identified hematite in
the ridge and also mapped water-related clay and sulfate minerals in layers
just above it.

Vera Rubin Ridge stands about eight stories tall, with a trough behind
it where clay minerals await. Curiosity is now near the downhill face,
which forms an impressive wall for much of the ridge's length of about
4 miles (6.5 kilometers).

"In this first phase of the campaign, we're studying the sedimentary structures
in the wall," said JPL's Abigail Fraeman, a Curiosity science-team member
who helped plan these observations.

This summer's investigations also seek information about the boundary
zone between the material that makes up the ridge and the geological unit
that Curiosity has been studying since late 2014: the Murray formation
of lower Mount Sharp, which holds evidence of ancient lakes. The Murray
formation has variable levels of hematite, but whether the hematite in
it and in the ridge accumulated under similar environmental conditions
is unknown. The planned ascent route will provide access to closer inspection
of the hematite-bearing rocks.

"We want to determine the relationship between the conditions that produced
the hematite and the conditions under which the rock layers of the ridge
were deposited," Fraeman said. "Were they deposited by wind, or in a lake,
or some other setting? Did the hematite form while the sediments accumulated,
or later, from fluids moving through the rock?"

Deciphering the history of the ridge's hematite may shed light on whether
the freshwater environments that deposited the layers of the older Murray
formation were turning more acidic by the time the layers of the ridge
formed. The mission also will be watching for clues about whether a gradient
in oxidation levels was present, as that could have provided a potential
energy source for microbial life.

Terrain near the base of the ridge is rife with boulders and sand, creating
challenging conditions for navigation, as well as opportunities to add
to the mission's studies of sand dunes and ripples. The largest sand dunes
were at lower elevations, including a linear dune informally named "Nathan
Bridges Dune" in memory of Nathan Bridges (1966-2017), a Curiosity team
member who helped lead the mission's dune studies.

During the first year after its landing on Aug. 5, 2012, PDT (Aug. 6,
EDT and Universal Time), the Curiosity mission accomplished a major goal
by determining that billions of years ago, a Martian lake offered conditions
that would have been favorable for microbial life. Curiosity has since
traversed through a diversity of environments where both water and wind
have left their imprint. The upcoming exploration of Vera Rubin Ridge
and the higher clay and sulfate layers provides opportunities to learn
even more about the history and habitability of ancient Mars. For more
about Curiosity, visit:


Status of Curiosity's Drill

The rover team will not have Curiosity's rock sampling drill available
in the first phase of studying "Vera Rubin Ridge." The drill feed mechanism,
which moves the bit forward or back, faulted on Dec. 1, 2016, and no rocks
have been drilled since then. While continuing to test possible ways to
move the bit with the drill feed mechanism, rover engineers are also now
studying alternative ways to drill. For the 15 rocks that Curiosity has
sampled with its drill so far, two stabilizer posts, one to each side
of the bit, were placed against the rock before the bit was extended with
the feed mechanism.

"We are investigating methods to drill without using the stabilizers,"
said Curiosity Deputy Project Manager Steve Lee, of JPL. "Instead of using
the feed mechanism to drive the bit into the rock, we may be able to use
motion of the arm to drive the bit into the rock." Adaptation in delivering
the resulting rock powder to laboratory instruments is also under study,
such as use of the arm's soil scoop.

News Media Contact
Guy Webster
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
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 Fri 18 Aug 2017 07:09:50 PM PDT

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