Curiosity moves on

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The Curiosity science team today put out press release summarizing what they have accomplished at Murray Buttes and what they hope to do next.

For those who have been reading my weekly rover updates on Behind the Black, most of this release will be old news. However, the release did provide the following interesting geological information that supplements what I have been reporting:

This latest drill site — the 14th for Curiosity — is in a geological layer about 600 feet (180 meters) thick, called the Murray formation. Curiosity has climbed nearly half of this formation’s thickness so far and found it consists primarily of mudstone, formed from mud that accumulated at the bottom of ancient lakes. The findings indicate that the lake environment was enduring, not fleeting. For roughly the first half of the new two-year mission extension, the rover team anticipates investigating the upper half of the Murray formation. “We will see whether that record of lakes continues further,” Vasavada said. “The more vertical thickness we see, the longer the lakes were present, and the longer habitable conditions existed here. Did the ancient environment change over time? Will the type of evidence we’ve found so far transition to something else?”

The “Hematite Unit” and “Clay Unit” above the Murray formation were identified from Mars orbiter observations before Curiosity’s landing. Information about their composition, from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, made them high priorities as destinations for the rover mission. Both hematite and clay typically form in wet environments.

It also appears that the problems they had while doing the last drill hole were related to the electrical design flaw of Curiosity’s drill. It caused a short circuit this time, which is worrisome based on what I understand because this design flaw has the capability of shorting out the rover’s entire electrical system, ending the mission.

I will post a new rover update later this week, once I get back from Illinois.

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