Amazing flaky Martian rocks formed in a stream or small pond

Since 2012, NASA’s Curiosity robber has explored the Gale Crater looking for clues to Mars’ past and possible evidence that it once supported life. For the past year, this search has focused on the lower levels of Mount Sharp, a transition area between a clay-rich area and an area filled with sulfates (a type of mineral salt). These regions can provide insight into Mars’ warm, watery past, but the transition zone between them is also of scientific value. In short, the study of this region could provide an account of the great climate change that occurred on Mars billions of years ago.

For example, this region has unique geological features, including clay minerals that appear as: scaly layers of sedimentary rock† One in particular, “the bow”, was recently imaged by Curiosity and made the mission science teams buzz. These features were formed when water still flowed into Gale Crater and deposited sediment at the base of Mount Sharp. Higher up the mountain, the hill was likely covered with windblown dunes that hardened into rock over time. In between, the scaly layers have formed, possibly as a result of small ponds or streams that weaved them between the dunes.

As the rover climbs higher up Mount Sharp and through the transition zone, it detects fewer clay deposits and more sulfate-rich rock. Soon the rover will drill and analyze its last sample from this zone to learn more about the changing mineral composition of these rocks. The analysis of this region is also expected to provide insights into how the groundwater ebb and flow over time, leaving behind a complex geological record indicating how the region went through multiple “wet” periods before becoming the frozen and committed site. which it is now.

Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explained

“We no longer see the lake deposits that we saw years lower on Mount Sharp. Instead, we see a lot of evidence of drier climates, such as dry dunes with occasional streams running around them. That’s a big change from the lakes that may have existed millions of years ago.”

In other rover-related news, Curiosity has experienced some health problems indicating that the rover is showing signs of age. These included additional damage to the treads, plus an apparent glitch with the instrument that caused the rover to go into safe mode. on June 4ethe technical team took new pictures of Curiosity wheels, something they did every 1,000 meters (3,281 feet) to check their overall health. This has become especially important since the rover team de first fractures in its treads in 2017† Originally, the team carried out wheel inspections every 500 meters.

This was doubled after a traction control algorithm was introduced to slow wheel deterioration, which was seen as a justification for fewer inspections. But the last pictures of Curiosity wheels revealed that the left center wheel had damaged one of its characteristic zigzagging treads (cams) – four of this wheel’s nineteen ridges had already broken, making this its fifth. This has prompted mission controllers to revert to their original cadence and take pictures of the wheels every half kilometer (0.62 miles). said Megan Lin, Curiosity‘s project manager at JPL:

“We have proven through ground tests that we can safely drive on the rims if necessary. If we ever got to the point where a single wheel had broken a good portion of its grooves, we could take a controlled break to shed the remaining pieces. Given recent trends, it seems unlikely that we should take such measures. The wheels hold up well and provide the traction we need to continue our climb.”

Image taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) of Curiosity’s wheels on March 19, 2017. Credit: NASA

The other problem arose on June 7 when: Curiosity‘s internal temperature sensors indicated that one of the instrument’s control boxes had overheated. This caused the rover to automatically enter safe mode and shut down all but the most essential functions. Mission engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory returned the rover to normal operation two days later, but are still trying to pinpoint the exact cause of the problem. They have suggested that this may be due to an erroneous temperature reading and have since switched to backup temperature sensors.

These indications of wear and potential failures do not stand in the way of Curiosity’s tenth anniversary, which takes place on August 5. With its mission extended indefinitely, it has no set timeline for its operations and will continue to explore until its radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) dies or suffers a catastrophic failure. Meanwhile, Curiosity remains soldier on and climbs Mount Sharp, collecting evidence of Mars’ past and looking for possible signs that it once supported (and perhaps still could!) life.

Read further: NASA

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