Africa: Rover's Soil Studies Detect Martian Minerals

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has completed initial experiments showing that the mineralogy of Martian soil is similar to soils of volcanic origin in Hawaii.

The minerals were identified in the first sample of Martian soil ingested recently by the rover. Curiosity used its Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin) to obtain the results, which are filling gaps and adding confidence to earlier estimates of the mineralogical makeup of the dust and fine soil widespread on the Red Planet.

"We had many previous inferences and discussions about the mineralogy of Martian soil," said David Blake of NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, who is the principal investigator for CheMin. "Our quantitative results provide refined and in some cases new identifications of the minerals in this first X-ray diffraction analysis on Mars."

This graphic shows the results of the X-ray diffraction analysis. By directing an X-ray beam at a sample and recording how X-rays are scattered by the sample at an atomic level, the instrument can definitively identify and quantify minerals on Mars for the first time. Each mineral has a unique pattern of rings, or "fingerprint," revealing its presence. The colors in the graphic represent the intensity of the X-rays, with red being the most intense.

The identification of minerals in rocks and soil is crucial for the mission's goal to assess past environmental conditions, NASA said. Each mineral records the conditions under which it formed.

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