NASA’s Curiosity rover which completed its first soil analysis on Mars has found minerals on the Red Planet similar to weathered basalt volcanic soils in Hawaii.
X-ray diffraction image of first Martian soil sample showed the presence of crystalline feldspar, pyroxenes and olivine mixed with some non-crystalline material — similar to volcanic soils in Hawaii.
The minerals were identified in the first sample of Martian soil ingested recently by the rover, NASA said.
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.
“Our quantitative results provide refined and in some cases new identifications of the minerals in this first X-ray diffraction analysis on Mars,” Blake said.
The identification of minerals in rocks and soil is crucial for the mission’s goal to assess past environmental conditions. Each mineral records the conditions under which it formed.
CheMin uses X-ray diffraction, the standard practice for geologists on Earth using much larger laboratory instruments.
This method provides more accurate identifications of minerals than any method previously used on Mars. X-ray diffraction reads minerals’ internal structure by recording how their crystals distinctively interact with radiations.
“Our team is elated with these first results from our instrument. They heighten our anticipation for future CheMin analyses in the months and miles ahead for Curiosity,” said Blake.
During the two-year prime mission of the Mars Science Laboratory Project, researchers are using Curiosity’s 10 instruments to investigate whether areas in Gale Crater ever offered environmental conditions favourable for microbial life.