Hannah Bruce Macdonald
Curiosity, NASA’s Mars rover, has become the
first instrument to carry out X-ray
diffraction on another planet. Curiosity has paused on its journey to ‘Rocknest’ to perform its first test on the
soils, while simultaneously
removing any contaminants from Earth which it might have taken with it on its journey to space.
This comes after the team’s relief of shifting
to normal working days for their study of Mars, after spending the first 90 days of the mission
following a Martian time frame with 24 hour 39
minute days. Now those working on the
project have recovered from interplanetary jet lag, they have set Curiosity to start shifting the sand to
isolate the particles smaller than
150 micrometres and analyzing it.
The results of x-ray diffraction have shown significant amounts of feldspar, olivine and pyroxene. The sands
themselves have been formed from
sandstorms, meteorite collisions, or by the chemical breakdown of
rocks through the action of water or oxygen.
This soil sample is comparable to basaltic soil
found in Hawaii, a volcanic
island. These deposits have come from the Gale crater, which the scientists predict was an area that has passed from a
wet environment to a dry one. The
minerals are consistent with this, indicating limited interaction with water.
This research is all carried out with the notion
that Mars could have supported microbial life, which makes the comparison to sands found on
Earth and the suggestion of water interaction
such an exciting one.