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Way of seduction: Power & control, imaginative, intense, impulsive Date Idea: Go to a concert together
Over the past three years, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has been investigating the Martian surface in unprecedented detail. It has provided an abundance of information on the Red Planet, including insights into its geological make-up, the discovery of an ancient streambed which once contained water, as well as measurements of organic chemicals in the planet’s atmosphere. Continuing its reign of success, Curiosity has recently discovered strange silica-rich bedrock near Marias Pass, in an area downhill from a geological contact zone on Mount Sharp.
Using the Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) instruments, Curiosity detected unexpectedly high levels of silica and hydrogen in this bedrock. ChemCam works by shooting a laser at targeted rocks and soil, vaporising materials from regions as small as 1 millimetre. The resulting plasma allows scientists to examine the composition of these materials, providing exceptional detail via an on-board spectrograph. This enabled Curiosity to record a spectral reading of the unusual bedrock, which the Curiosity team named “Elk”. DAN, on the other hand, is used to detect hydrogen by focusing a beam of neutrons onto the surface of the planet. If liquid or ice is present, then the neutrons are absorbed by the hydrogen atoms, and those that escape move perceptibly slower. DAN detected raised levels of Hydrogen in the region near Marias Pass, and after careful examination of the data provided by these two instruments, the Curiosity team decided to send the rover back to inspect the silica-rich area.
Silica is a chemical compound composed of silicon and oxygen, and is the main constituent of sand. On Earth it is typically found in the form of quartz, as well as other types of minerals, including flint, opal and jasper. Concentrated levels of silica in bedrock may point towards favourable conditions for preserving ancient organic molecules. As the rover made its return for further study, it also came across a similar rocky structure dubbed “Lamoose”. Both “Elk” and “Lamoose” present intriguing opportunities for the Curiosity team to investigate and gain further insight into these unusual samples of Martian rock.
IMAGE CREDIT: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS (High Silica rock dubbed “Lamoose”, photographed by the Mars Hand Lens Imager)