28 March 2018
After completing a nearly 55m drive, Curiosity found itself sitting right in the middle of the strongest spectral detection of hematite identified along its path up Mt. Sharp. This strong spectral signature is viewed both from orbit, where it was originally identified in Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer data, and from the ground in Mastcam multispectral data. While Curiosity has definitely visited some areas that have the spectral fingerprint of hematite in previous sols, this is by far the best example we’ve seen over the mission. The MSL science team is still trying to figure out how this mineral formed and why we’re finding it where we are. Today’s parking spot will likely prove key to unraveling the geologic history of the Vera Rubin Ridge, when combined with other data acquired in Gale Crater.
It was a busy day for Curiosity and the science team had a fabulous workspace to examine. Two contact science targets (‘Stranraer’ and ‘Murchison’) were chosen to help examine the variability in chemistry related to different targets identified in color Mastcam data. For example, the Murchison target appears to be darker red than some of the other rocks like the Stranraer target. A unique experiment with Mastcam was designed to characterize the light scattering properties of the unit by taking 7 different observations over the course of the day. Mastcam will observe how the same spot on the surface changes its reflectivity properties with changing illumination, with the goal of providing insights into the nature of the hematite itself.
Written by Christopher Edwards, Planetary Geologist at Northern Arizona University