View from Curiosity’s Mast Camera (Mastcam) shows a site with a network of prominent mineral veins below a cap rock ridge on lower Mount Sharp. Using the robot’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) instrument, scientists have discovered unusual material in these veins that has the highest germanium concentrations found in Gale Crater.
Credit: AGU/NASA

 

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 1798 science duties.

In newly released data from Curiosity, scientists report a potential history of hydrothermal activity at Gale Crater on the Red Planet, a finding that broadens the variety of habitable conditions once present there.

The new study has been published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, a journal of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). The new measurements come from the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) on Curiosity.

Zinc and germanium

According to an AGU statement on the group’s “Blogosphere,” researchers found concentrations of the elements zinc and germanium to be 10 to 100 times greater in sedimentary rocks in Gale Crater compared to the typical Martian crust.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image taken on Sol 1797, August 26, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Zinc and germanium tend to be enriched together in high temperature fluids and often occur together on Earth in hydrothermal deposits containing sulfur. The elevated concentrations of zinc and germanium in Gale Crater can potentially be explained by hydrothermal activity that occurred in the region, the new research suggests.

Evidence preserved?

“Extreme thermal environments on Earth are home to a diverse array of microbial life adapted to these conditions, and these organisms may have been some of the first to evolve on Earth,” notes the AGU.

Curiosity Mastcam Left image taken on Sol 1796, August 25, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Now with potential evidence for hydrothermal conditions once present inside or near Gale Crater, Curiosity’s mission takes another step toward determining if there were favorable environmental conditions for microbial life on Mars, explains Jeff Berger, a geologist at the University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada and lead author of the new study.

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1796, August 25, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Hydrothermal deposits are more likely to preserve evidence of microbial life or its precursors, according to Berger. “You have heat and chemical gradients…conditions favorable for the genesis and persistence life,” he said.

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo acquired on Sol 1797, August 26 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

 

New road map

A new Curiosity traverse map has been released, indicating the route driven by the robot through Sol 1796 (August 25, 2017).

Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up.

The scale bar is 1 kilometer (~0.62 mile).

Self-inspection for wheel wear. Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo taken on Sol 1798, August 27, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

 

 

Total odometry

From Sol 1795 to Sol 1796, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 56.12 feet (17.11 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission that began in August 2012 to 10.72 miles (17.26 kilometers).

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) in NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resources

The new AGU-published research “Zinc and germanium in the sedimentary rocks of Gale Crater on Mars indicate hydrothermal enrichment followed by diagenetic fractionation” is available at:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2017JE005290/abstract

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