Sunday, September 29, 2013

Mysterious Mars


Lisa M.Krieger writing at MercuryNews:
 ....A small, made-in-Mountain View device is yielding new insights about the windblown geology of the Red Planet.

The bread box-sized instrument built by David Blake, of NASA´s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field -- analyzing a sheltered sand ripple on Mars -- detected a crust of large particles atop smaller particles, suggesting a history of fierce winds.

"When things like that occur, it means Mars would have windy spells and turbulence," said Blake.

He believes that gale-force winds kick up when restless Mars changes its axial tilt. Unlike Earth, the tilt of Mars has repeatedly swung from 0 to 60 degrees over its 4.5 billion-year life span. He and his colleagues report this and other findings, discovered using a suite of analytic instruments aboard NASA's $1 billion Curiosity rover, in the most recent issue of the journal Science.

The rover, more than 220 million miles from home since its harrowing touchdown a year ago, has tested more than one hundred samples of soil in a sandy patch of the Gale Crater known as Rocknest. It has also returned more than 190 gigabits of data. Among its other findings:

Hydrogen, which scientists interpret as water, bound to fine-grained particles of dirt. They calculate that this soil contains 2 percent water by weight, meaning that astronaut pioneers could extract roughly 2 pints of water out of every cubic foot of Martian dirt they dig up.

10 different minerals. These minerals were amorphous, similar to glassy substances found in some volcanic deposits on earth, rather than crystalline.

A compound with chlorine and oxygen, likely chlorate or perchlorate, which previously was known to exist on Mars only at one high-latitude site. This finding suggests the toxic material is widespread and might complicate future plans for humans to live on Mars.

A football-size igneous rock called "Jake M," named after the late NASA engineer Jacob "Jake" Matijevic, is similar to some rare lava on earth, formed by cooling molten material from beneath the planet's crust....

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