While attention has been focused on the Persistence rover that landed on Mars last month, its Curiosity predecessor continues to explore Mount Sharp’s base on the red planet and is still making discoveries. Research published recently in the journal Geology shows that Mars had drier and wetter periods before completely drying out about 3 billion years ago. “The main aim of the curiosity mission was to study the transition from the habitable environment of the past, to the dry and cold climate that Mars now has. These rock layers recorded that change in great detail, ”said Roger Wiens, a paper coauthor and scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he is on the ChemCam team. ChemCam is the laser that evaporates rocks that sit on the mast of curiosity and analyzes the chemical composition of rocks on Mars.
William Rapin, a researcher with the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), led the study. ChemCam’s laser instrument uses an infrared color laser ray, which heats rock fragments to about 18,000 degrees Fahrenheit (10,000 degrees Celsius), evaporating them. The plasma produced by this process allows scientists to analyze the chemical and mineral composition of the rocks, which convey important information about Mars’ geological history. The tool also has a high resolution camera. ChemCam is ordered alternately from Los Alamos in New Mexico and the French Space Agency in Toulouse, as a partnership between the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the IRAP research center. Each week, the operations change hands between the two places. Together, the ChemCam team has published over 100 scientific papers on its discoveries of more than 850,000 laser zaps.
These changes in land show that the climate of Mars has undergone several large-scale variations between wetter and dryer periods, until the prevailing arid conditions experienced today. During its extended mission, Curiosity is supposed to climb the foothills of Mount Sharp and drill into its various beds to get a closer look at these fascinating materials. For more information on this research, read Mars Didn’t Dry Up in One Go – Martian Climate Cyclone Between Dry and Wet Periods.
Moving up through the land, he found curiosity that the types of beds change significantly. Lying above the clays deposited by lakes that form the base of Mount Sharp, sandstone layers show structures that indicate their form of wind-formed dunes, suggesting long, dry climate episodes. Higher up, fragile and alternating beds are typical of river floodplain deposits, marking the return of wetter conditions. Using the long range camera on ChemCam to make detailed observations of the steep terrain of Mount Sharp, a team including Wiens and other researchers in Los Alamos discovered that the climate of Mars shifts between dry and wetter periods before it becomes completely dry. Spacecraft in orbit around Mars had previously provided clues about the mineral composition of the slopes of Mount Sharp. Now, ChemCam has been able to make detailed observations of the sedimentary beds from the planet’s surface, revealing the conditions under which they formed.
Source Reference: “Alternating wet and dry depositional environments recorded in the stratigraphy of Mount Sharp at Gale crater, Mars” by W. Rapin, G. Dromart, D. Rubin, L. Le Deit, N. Mangold, LA Edgar, O .Gasnault, K. Herkenhoff, S. Le Mouélic, R. B. Anderson, S. Maurice, V. Fox, B. L. Ehlmann, J. L. Dickson and R. R. Wiens, 8 April 2021, Geology.DOI: 10.1130 / G48519.1
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- Caption: Curiosity Rover discovers that Mars didn’t dry all at once
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