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Curiosity discovers water-rich fracture halos on Mars

MADRID, 4 Jan. (EUROPA PRESS) –

Fracture halos studied by NASA’s Curiosity rover in Gale Crater on Mars contained water-rich opal, which could constitute an important resource for human exploration.

A research team using new methods to analyze data from the rover and its Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons, or DAN, neutron spectrometer, concludes that the vast networks of subsurface fractures would have provided water-rich, radiation-shielded conditions potentially more habitable than those on the surface.

In 2012, NASA sent the Curiosity rover to Mars to explore Gale Crater, a large impact basin with a massive layered mountain at its center. As Curiosity has traversed the surface of Mars, researchers have discovered light-hued rocks surrounding fractures that cut through certain parts of the Martian landscape. and sometimes extending as far as the horizon of the rover’s images.

Recent work has found that these widespread halo networks constituted one of the last, if not the last, water-rich environments in the modern era of Gale Crater. This subsurface water-rich environment also it would have provided more habitable conditions when conditions on the surface were likely much harsher.

As part of a new study published in the journal Journal of Geophysical Research: Planetsled by Travis Gabriel, a former Arizona State University NewSpace Postdoctoral Fellow and current US Government Research Physicist, examined archival data from several instruments and observed significant anomalies near light-hued rocks early of the crossing

By chance, the Curiosity rover passed over one of these fracture halos many years ago, long before Gabriel and Sean Czarnecki, an ASU graduate student and study co-author, joined the rover team.

Looking at the ancient images, they saw a huge expanse of fracture halos stretching into the distance. Applying new methods to analyze the data from the instruments, the research team discovered something curious. These halos not only resembled halos found much later in the mission, in completely different rock units, but were similar in composition: a large amount of silica and water.

“Our new analysis of the archival data showed a striking similarity between all the fracture halos that we observed much later in the mission,” Gabriel said. it’s a statement. “Seeing that these fracture networks were so widespread and probably chock full of opal was amazing.”

Gabriel and his team of researchers studied the composition of the light-colored rocks surrounding fractures in the ground, or fracture halos, in Gale Crater. Previous studies Gabriel was involved in used the rover’s laser-induced decay spectrometer, Chemistry and Camera, or ChemCam, to show that these halos may be composed of opal, a material that has important implications for the history of Gale Crater. The opal contains a large amount of water, which produced a strong signal on another rover instrument: the DAN spectrometer.

By looking at drill cores taken from the Buckskin and Greenhorn deposits many years after the mission, the scientists confirmed that these light-hued rocks they were very unique compared to anything the team had seen before.

“These light-hued rocks would light up in our neutron detector, producing abnormally high thermal neutron count rates,” Gabriel explains.

In addition to reviewing archival data, Gabriel and his team looked for opportunities to re-study these light-hued rocks. When they reached the Lubango deposit, a brilliantly hued fracture halo, Gabriel led a campaign of measurements with the neutron spectrometer. which confirmed the opal-rich composition of the fracture halos.

The opal discovery is noteworthy, as it can form in situations where silica is in solution with water, a process similar to dissolving sugar or salt in water. If there is too much salt, or conditions change, it begins to settle to the bottom. On Earth, silica dissolves in places like the bottoms of lakes and oceans and can form in hot springs and geysers, somewhat similar to the Yellowstone National Park environments.

The subsurface water-rich environments of Mars could have provided a safe haven from the harsh conditions on its surface, which is quite inhospitable compared to Earth.

Since scientists predict that this opal from Gale Crater formed in a modern day on Mars, these subterranean fracture networks they could have been much more habitable than today’s harsh conditions on the surface.

“Given the extensive fracture networks discovered in Gale Crater, it is reasonable to expect that these potentially habitable subsurface conditions would extend to many other regions of Gale Crater as well, and perhaps to other regions on Mars,” Gabriel said. “These environments would have formed long after the ancient Gale Crater Lakes dried up.”

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