Mars rock touched by Curiosity has surprises

Oct 11, 2012
This image shows where NASA's Curiosity rover aimed two different instruments to study a rock known as "Jake Matijevic." The red dots are where the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument zapped it with its laser on Sept. 21, 2012, and Sept. 24, 2012, which were the 45th and 48th sol, or Martian day of operations. The circular black and white images were taken by ChemCam to look for the pits produced by the laser. The purple circles indicate where the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer trained its view. This image was obtained by Curiosity's Mast Camera on Sept. 22, 2012, or sol 46. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

(Phys.org)—The first Martian rock NASA's Curiosity rover has reached out to touch presents a more varied composition than expected from previous missions. The rock also resembles some unusual rocks from Earth's interior.

The rover team used two instruments on Curiosity to study the of the football-size called "Jake Matijevic" (matt-EE-oh-vick) The results support some surprising recent measurements and provide an example of why identifying rocks' composition is such a major emphasis of the mission. Rock compositions tell stories about unseen environments and planetary processes.

"This rock is a close match in to an unusual but well-known type of igneous rock found in many volcanic provinces on Earth," said Edward Stolper of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who is a Curiosity co-investigator. "With only one Martian rock of this type, it is difficult to know whether the same processes were involved, but it is a reasonable place to start thinking about its origin."

On Earth, rocks with composition like the Jake rock typically come from processes in the planet's mantle beneath the crust, from crystallization of relatively water-rich magma at elevated pressure.

Jake was the first rock analyzed by the rover's arm-mounted X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) instrument and about the thirtieth rock examined by the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument. Two penny-size spots on Jake were analyzed Sept. 22 by the rover's improved and faster version of earlier APXS devices on all previous , which have examined hundreds of rocks. That information has provided scientists a library of comparisons for what Curiosity sees.

This animated graphic represents compositions indicated by 350 spectra, or analyses of laser plasma light, observed on the rock "Jake Matijevic" by the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument on NASA's Curiosity rover. Each spectrum is plotted along three axes in terms of its first three principal components and is color coded by observation point. ChemCam analyzed 14 different points on the rock, taking 30 spectra of each point. The first five spectra at each point were discarded because they were contaminated by surface dust. The remaining 25 spectra from each point cluster together, representing a unique composition for each of the 14 points. The unique compositions indicate that individual mineral grains and combinations of grains are observed, implying that mineral grains are in many cases larger than the 0.014-inch (0.35-millimeter) diameter of the laser beam. In a coarse-grained rock like Jake, the compositions of the outlier points can then be investigated to indicate what minerals are present in the rock. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/IRAP/UNM

"Jake is kind of an odd ," said APXS Principal Investigator Ralf Gellert of the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. "It's high in elements consistent with the mineral feldspar, and low in magnesium and iron."

ChemCam found unique compositions at each of 14 target points on the rock, hitting different mineral grains within it.

This graphic made from data obtained by NASA's Curiosity rover shows the ultraviolet portion of the spectrum of data obtained by the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument, plus peaks for sodium and potassium, for four observation points on the rock "Jake Matijevic," which intrigued scientists. These were the outlying clusters in the previous figure. Chemcam analyzed a total of 14 points on the rock, zapping each one 30 times with its laser. The colors correspond to the colors in the previous figure. Strong emission peaks or regions of peaks corresponding to major elements are highlighted and labeled. Observation point 45-1 is rich in magnesium and somewhat in iron, giving a composition suggestive of the mineral olivine. Point 45-2 is strongly enriched with iron and titanium, suggesting a metal oxide grain, possibly ilmenite. Point 48-10 is rich in silicon, aluminum, sodium and potassium, strongly suggestive of the mineral feldspar. Point 48-14 is high in calcium and has moderate magnesium, consistent with the mineral pyroxene. The top three spectra, or different wavelengths of radiation detected by the instrument, are averages of laser shots six through 30; the bottom spectrum is an average of laser shots 21 to 30. The spectra were obtained at ChemCam distances of 12.8 and 10.5 feet (3.9 and 3.2 meters) from the rock on Sept. 21, 2012, and Sept. 24, 2012 (sols 45 and 48). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/IRAP

"ChemCam had been seeing compositions suggestive of feldspar since August, and we're getting closer to confirming that now with APXS data, although there are additional tests to be done," said ChemCam Principal Investigator Roger Wiens (WEENS) of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Examination of Jake included the first comparison on Mars between APXS results and results from checking the same rock with ChemCam, which shoots laser pulses from the top of the rover's mast.

The graph shows the abundances of elements in the Martian rock "Jake Matijevic" (black line) and a calibration target (red line) as detected by the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) instrument on NASA's Curiosity rover. Compared to previously found rocks on Mars, the Jake rock is low in magnesium and iron, high in elements like sodium, aluminum, silicon and potassium, which often are in feldspar minerals. It has very low nickel and zinc. The salt-forming elements sulfur, chlorine and bromine are likely in soil or dust grains visible on the surface of the rock. These results point to an igneous or volcanic origin for this rock. The Jake rock was targeted on Sept. 22, 2012, which was the 46th sol, or Martian day, of operations. The calibration target was targeted on Sept. 9, 2012, which was sol 34. APXS obtained its data by aiming alpha particles and X-rays at the rock and observing the energies of the X-rays that are emitted by the sample rock. These data are also known as spectra. The spectra on the rock and calibration target were taken for an hour at night, where the X-ray detector delivers its very best resolution, which means that the elemental peaks are the sharpest. Scales of the two different spectra were adjusted to make comparisons easier because each was measured at a slightly different distance. The calibration target was a rock slab brought from Earth with a well-determined composition so that scientists can extract the composition of newly targeted Martian rocks very precisely. All other Mars rovers -- Spirit, Opportunity and Sojourner -- were equipped with earlier versions of the APXS, which allows scientists to make detailed comparisons among rocks on different parts of Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Guelph/CSA

The wealth of information from the two instruments checking chemical elements in the same rock is just a preview. Curiosity also carries analytical laboratories inside the rover to provide other composition information about powder samples from rocks and soil. The mission is progressing toward getting the first soil sample into those analytical instruments during a "sol," or Martian day.

This image shows the wall of a scuffmark NASA's Curiosity made in a windblown ripple of Martian sand with its wheel. The upper half of the image shows a small portion of the side wall of the scuff and a little bit of the floor of the scuff (bottom of this image). The prominent depression with raised rims at the bottom center of the image was formed by one of the treads on Curiosity's front right wheel. The largest grains in this image are about 0.04 to 0.08 inches (1 to 2 millimeters) in size. Those large grains were on top of the windblown ripple and fell down to this location when the scuff was made. The bulk of the sand in the ripple is smaller, in the range below 0.002 to 0.008 inches (50 to 200 microns). The full scuffmark is 20 inches (50 centimeters) wide, which is the width of Curiosity's wheel. This image from the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) is the product of merging eight images acquired at eight slightly different focus settings to bring out details on the wall, slopes, and floor of the wheel scuff. The merge was performed onboard the MAHLI instrument to reduce downlinked data volume. The image was acquired by MAHLI with the lens about 4.7 inches (12 centimeters) from the target. The pixel scale is about 0.002 inches (50 microns) per pixel. The image covers an area, roughly 3 by 2 inches (8 by 6 centimeters). The image was obtained on Oct. 4, 2012, or sol 58, the 58th Martian day of operations on the surface. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

"Yestersol, we used Curiosity's first perfectly scooped sample for cleaning the interior surfaces of our 150-micron sample-processing chambers. It's our version of a Martian carwash," said Chris Roumeliotis (room-eel-ee-OH-tiss), lead turret rover planner at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Before proceeding, the team carefully studied the material for scooping at a sandy patch called "Rocknest," where Curiosity is spending about three weeks.

"That first sample was perfect, just the right particle-size distribution," said JPL's Luther Beegle, Curiosity sampling-system scientist. "We had a lot of steps to be sure it was safe to go through with the scooping and cleaning."

Following the work at Rocknest, the rover team plans to drive Curiosity about 100 yards eastward and select a rock in that area as the first target for using the drill.

During a two-year prime mission, researchers will use 's 10 instruments to assess whether the study area ever has offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

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User comments : 36

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NickFun
1.5 / 5 (13) Oct 11, 2012
Perhaps that rock was laid there by some distant alien intelligence?
Mike_Massen
2.4 / 5 (9) Oct 11, 2012
Some say, "Make the foundation stone of hardier material, so lest the building tumble and be washed away that stone will be last to be lost", so is this some foundation stone - an igneous in a region of sedimentaries ?

The shape is interesting, proportions re shades of the Pyramid of Ghiza perhaps ?
SteveL
4.1 / 5 (8) Oct 11, 2012
Perhaps that rock was laid there by some distant alien intelligence?
Now we are the aliens. This intelligent part is still debatable.

The shape is interesting, proportions re shades of the Pyramid of Ghiza perhaps ?
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." - Shakespeare's Hamlet.
PhotonX
4 / 5 (4) Oct 11, 2012
The shape is interesting, proportions re shades of the Pyramid of Ghiza perhaps?
Yes, kind of. I do hope you don't want to turn it over to see if there is a face on the other side, though....
Dogjaw
4.3 / 5 (22) Oct 12, 2012
I think it might just be a rock guys.
alfie_null
3.8 / 5 (8) Oct 12, 2012
I note the primary use of Imperial units, usually followed by their Metric equivalents. Does the science team use Metric (I'd hope) or Imperial?

The public affairs office does a disservice in providing Imperial measurements - just give the Metric units. Readers who are even remotely interested will learn to figure it out themselves.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (7) Oct 12, 2012
Then again: imperial units are still better than "size of a penny".

The shape is interesting, proportions re shades of the Pyramid of Ghiza perhaps ?

Doctrine of signatures?

Structure X necessitates form Y DOES NOT MEAN that if something has form Y it came from structure X.
(Water is blue - but concluding from that that anything blue you see is water is just insane)
Pattern_chaser
3 / 5 (7) Oct 12, 2012
The units matter little. What matters is that most readers can understand what's meant with ease. Anything that aids in this is good; anything that doesn't, isn't.
Mike_Massen
4.2 / 5 (5) Oct 12, 2012
You guys can't take a joke and obviously never bother to check the profiles of people so it makes it abundantly clear they are writing in jest...

Geesh
LarryD
4.3 / 5 (3) Oct 12, 2012
Actually, I thought the rock looked a piece of that well known pyramid shaped chocolate. Not sure though because I couldn't see any wrapping. Moon is made of cheese and Mars is made of chocolate. Maybe we don't live in a universe at all...it's just a big supermarket...no that's gojng too far. Perhaps The Milky Way is just that!
LarryD
not rated yet Oct 12, 2012
Er,chaps sorry about the typo, I meant 'gorging too far'
MIBO
1 / 5 (9) Oct 12, 2012
baudrunner
3 / 5 (2) Oct 12, 2012
"Yestersol", that's precious.
NickFun
1 / 5 (7) Oct 12, 2012
I find it odd that this rock has a nearly uniform shape as if it has been carved. Also, it is the only rock of its kind in the whole area. Could this just be a random erosion event? Something making it and putting it there actually sounds more likely!
Mike_Massen
4.1 / 5 (9) Oct 12, 2012
A whim from NickFun
..Something making it and putting it there actually sounds more likely!
There are lots of patterns in nature that 'look' as if "something did it". Eg Crystals from grams to tonnes, hexagonal outcrops, nicely shaped blow holes, regular cloud patterns, tree growths, etc

Nature appears to have an underlying fractal basis with significant inherent 'polymerisation' type patterns from biologically compatible molecules all the way up to continent wide structures.

One interesting molecule is a bipedal structure that is involved with the structure of protein threads during mitosis which actually walks up the thread carrying a burden to distribute !
NickFun
1 / 5 (5) Oct 12, 2012
Hey Mike! I do understand crystals and all that but can you tell me how this pyramid shape can be formed from a volcanic rock using any known theory?
Mike_Massen
4.4 / 5 (7) Oct 12, 2012
NickFun claimed
..I do understand crystals and [*[all that]*] but can you tell me how this pyramid shape can be formed from a volcanic rock using any known theory?
Well then you'd know about crystalline packing faults, discontinuities, shear and combinatorial issues re any sort of regular structure deforming under pressure and thermal stress since it appears to be igneous. Many of these flaws in general can have regular geometric structures, the mars rock however isnt that regular, pretty ordinary really, we cant look underneath, yet.

Pictures of regular (natural) hexagonal structures here:-
http://en.wikiped...rap_rock
Similar issues can be found re pyramidal if YOU want to spend the time looking.

There's nothing to suggest the rock we see isnt some sort of crystal artefact such as:-
http://www.crysta...als.html

Google is your (free) support service, that and an introduction to geology and properties of materials... G/L

Allex
4.5 / 5 (8) Oct 12, 2012
can you tell me how this pyramid shape can be formed from a volcanic rock using any known theory?

http://en.wikiped...eikanter
"Dreikanters exhibit a characteristic three-faced pyramidal shape. (...) Dreikanters generally form in dry, arid environments from hard rocks."

The known theory is called 'wind'...
Allex
4.1 / 5 (9) Oct 12, 2012
It always amazes me how some individuals persistently try to find sings of artificial design and purpose in purely natural unguided precesses like erosion or evolution.
Leavingmymind
1 / 5 (3) Oct 14, 2012
Actually if you notice the right side of this object, the formation appears to have slid down the face of something while it was undergoing cooling, and possibly was launched to this area by volcanic means; which may help determine why it is the only one of it's kind in the area.
Allex
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 14, 2012
is the only one of it's kind in the area

Is it? Maybe if by 'area' you mean this one photograph.
marble89
1 / 5 (2) Oct 16, 2012
"Yestersol", that's precious.

The martian day after yestersol is ... Tosol
Leavingmymind
1 / 5 (2) Oct 16, 2012
This is actually the only photograph I have seen of this area. I'm assuming based on the comment below, that the rock was unique to the location. It may not be. Doesn't matter.
The idea still works fine.

I find it odd that this rock has a nearly uniform shape as if it has been carved. Also, it is the only rock of its kind in the whole area. Could this just be a random erosion event? Something making it and putting it there actually sounds more likely!

Leavingmymind
1 / 5 (2) Oct 17, 2012
is the only one of it's kind in the area

Is it? Maybe if by 'area' you mean this one photograph.


Its the only one like it they have found on the planet from any Mars mission.
Allex
3.4 / 5 (5) Oct 17, 2012
Its the only one like it they have found on the planet from any Mars mission.

Let's see if I understand you correctly. Are you 100% sure of that?

Let me rephrase that. Have you seen all the pictures taken by any other lander/rover and are you confident this is the only rock of this type EVER found on Mars? Ever? Seriously?
Meyer
5 / 5 (1) Oct 17, 2012
Its the only one like it they have found on the planet from any Mars mission.

Let's see if I understand you correctly. Are you 100% sure of that?

Let me rephrase that. Have you seen all the pictures taken by any other lander/rover and are you confident this is the only rock of this type EVER found on Mars? Ever? Seriously?

Just to clarify further, it is the only Martian rock of its kind to have been zapped with a laser during any Mars mission on Sept. 21, 2012, and Sept. 24, 2012.
NickFun
1.8 / 5 (5) Oct 17, 2012
NASA scientists agree this is the only known example of this type of rock on the red planet http://www.hawaii...ists/123
Allex
1 / 5 (2) Oct 17, 2012
this is the only known example of this type of rock

In terms of chemical composition and petrological classification, yes. But not in terms of shape and signs of erosion.
LakeSuperiorGuy
not rated yet Oct 18, 2012
Has anyone seen what exact rock type this is likely to be? Appears to be a calc-alkaline basalt, but I'm wondering if anyone has seen anything specific from the mission science team?
Mike_Massen
not rated yet Oct 19, 2012
NickFun is either dreaming or CANT read English or just made a FEEBLE attempt to LIE to find a way to prove he was right
NASA scientists agree this is the only known example of this type of rock on the red planet http://www.hawaii...ists/123
NOWHERE do they state that on the link you supply or even imply it - how the F..K could you get that so WRONG, it makes it look like you are a LIAR or incompetent !

The closest paradigm to your claim is that it has "..surprisingly Earth-like qualities." which isnt good enough.

Maybe I'm wrong or you quote the wrong link but WHERE does it say
..only known example
or that
NASA scientists agree
?

@NickFun
Please DONT ever make things up, dont go anywhere near science, especially health care or medicine FFS, stay in politics or law where your keen ability to LIE is already accepted process in the USA !

I will be watching YOU.

TheGhostofOtto1923
3.9 / 5 (16) Oct 22, 2012
Hey mike,

Nick is pretty obviously a little delusional, but I see on your extremely informative profile page:

"Lucid dream inspired self hypnosis ...LENR, Philosophy, comparative esoteric religion"

-And I see on your Facebook page that you are still wearing a freaking ponytail?? These things imply that you are a little delusional yourself, yes?
I will be watching YOU.
Heehee. Meat tenderizers and guys wearing ponytails. Sorry dude, 'tough' does not apply.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (16) Oct 22, 2012
You know I would like to apologize for some of the things I said in my last post. It is improper to make fun of someones personal style choices, especially on a website dedicated to rational discussion such as this. Sorry mike. I see Ted Nugent also wears a ponytail so it must still be cool in some venues I suppose. And Ted is certainly a very rational guy. So does johnny depp and this guy as well
http://en.wikiped...agerfeld

Again, sorry.
NickFun
3 / 5 (2) Oct 22, 2012
It would appear I have pissed a few humorless people off! I was merely generating some hearty fodder for conversation! And Mike, you are welcome to watch me all you want! Hey, the government does! I am a professional satirist. Though I don't totally subscribe to the idea of alien intelligence on the red planet, I don't totally dismiss the idea either. In any case, lighten up!
NickFun
3 / 5 (2) Oct 22, 2012
Also, I stand by my assertion that this is the only rock of its type found on Mars. Check out http://digitaljou.../334784. Keep in mind, just because there are no other known examples doesn't mean there are no other examples. This particular type of rock is rare on Earth, never mind Mars!
Leavingmymind
1 / 5 (2) Oct 22, 2012
NickFun is either dreaming or CANT read English or just made a FEEBLE attempt to LIE to find a way to prove he was right
NASA scientists agree this is the only known example of this type of rock on the red planet http://www.hawaii...ists/123
NOWHERE do they state that on the link you supply or even imply it - how the F..K could you get that so WRONG, it makes it look like you are a LIAR or incompetent !


Mike, quite frankly, you're being a douche. There are several sites that state that it is the only one in the area, and the only one of it's kind encountered on Mars thus far. Maybe you should simply google it... seems to work. Otherwise I will have to assume you do your research from one source. Tisk, tisk.

http://www.csmoni...rs-video
NickFun
3 / 5 (2) Oct 22, 2012
Leaving, thank you. I had no idea my comments would generate such heated responses! Mike seemed to imply that he wants to beat the crap out of me! I would be anxious to hear a plausible explanation for the existence of this rock and why there are no similar rocks nearby! Okay, let's start the jousting anew!

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