NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover Approaches Kimberly Region

Astronomy News – 2014/03/25

NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover could be traversing terrain similar to large grained sandstone deposits found on Earth scientists studying images taken of the region surrounding the spacecraft believe.

The 160 degree landscape panorama below photographed by Curiosity’s Navigation Camera (Navcam) on February 19, 2014 during a stop on the missions 574th day shows an eroded sandstone outcrop called Junda and Mount Sharp on the horizon. The panoramic image below is centered on “the Kimberley”, a region 282 feet south from the rovers location, NASA scientists are heading Curiosity toward.

The 160 degree panorama here was taken by the Curiosity Mars Rover.
The 160 degree panorama here was taken by the Curiosity Mars Rover.

The 360-degree panorama below is also centered on the Kimberley region to the south. The outcrop of eroded sandstone in the foreground is the same one seen in the 160 degree panorama above.

The 360 degree panorama here is south of the Kimberley
The 360 degree panorama here is south of the Kimberley

The Kimberley region and Mount Sharp were chosen as prime targets of interest for NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover due to study of images taken from orbit of the region last year. Planetary scientists want to take a look at the Kimberley region because four types of sandstone with different textures intersect there.

“The orbital images didn’t tell us what those rocks are, but now that Curiosity is getting closer, we’re seeing a preview,” said Curiosity Deputy Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “

The contrasting heights of sandstone here indicates varying erosion resistance
The contrasting heights of sandstone here indicates varying erosion resistance

The contrasting textures and durabilities of sandstones in this area are fascinating. While superficially similar, the rocks likely formed and evolved quite differently from each other.”

The resistance to erosion of different rock types in a location 400 meters north-northwest of the Kimberley results in the different elevations and surfaces shades seen here. Higher elevations indicates more erosion resistant rock, while the flat, tanned surface is a sandstone with low resistance to erosion. This means the medium height rocks to the right center are less resistant to erosion than the taller rocks at the top of the image.

In earth geology sand is defined as fragmentary sediment smaller than 2 mm and 0.062 mm in diameter. Sandstone is the second most abundant sedimentary rock (20-25%) on Earth. The environment of deposition of surface rocks is generally related to mineral composition. A study of erosion of surface rocks and their mineral composition could provide planetary scientists with clues concerning the environment sandstone was formed in millions of years ago.

In geology the material between grains of sand in sandstone is called cement, whatever it’s composition. On earth the particular characteristics of cement varies quite a bit, depending on the environmental and geophysical history of the sandstone formation studied. Sandstones with a high percentage of clay-minerals are generally soft and will readily crumble when hit with a hammer. Sandstone with quartz cement is usually hard and rings when struck with a hammer.

Planetary scientists are hoping to have time in the planned schedule of Curiosity to study the sandstone in the Kimberly region. The results would be very interesting and could tell us a lot about the geological history of the Red Planet.

For the most part, the surface terrain NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover has travelled over thus far was finer grained mud stone, rather than the coarser-grained sandstone outcroppings they expect to discover once they reach the Kimberley region of Mars. Sandstone has been seen in a number of different forms on planet Earth and some earth scientists were probably expecting forms to exist on other planets. Time permitting, planetary scientists are hoping to grab a sample of the terrain in the Kimberley region, they can study in depth using laboratory instruments inside Curiosity.

As with earth geology, an understanding of the process that created the different sandstone formations and outcrops in the Kimberly region, could help explain terrain found in Mars Gale Crater and the reason it has a large layered mountain, Mount Sharp, near its center.

“A major issue for us now is to understand why some rocks resist erosion more than other rocks, especially when they are so close to each other and are both likely to be sandstones,” said Michael Malin of Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego.

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NASA’s Curiosity Reaches Milestone

NASA's Curiosity spacecraft has showed us things about Mars we only guessed at
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is leading the human exploration of Mars

100,000 zaps and counting

Astronomy News (December 05, 2013) –

NASA astronomers believe Curiosity has found an ancient lake that once existed on Mars
The blue area represents the extent of ancient lake inside Gale Crater, according to NASA astronomers

Astronomy News – The human journey to the beginning of space and time reached another milestone today as NASA’s Curiosity spacecraft fired its infrared laser for the 100,000th time. Curiosity has been conducting an experiment to determine the basic chemical elements contained within martian rocks and soils using the Chemistry and Camera Instrument (ChemCam). ChemCam has fired more than 102,000 times as of December 01, 2013, at 420 martian rocks and soils, and taken over 1,600 HD pictures using its onboard camera.

It appears the surface of Mars inside Gale Crater has been exposed to wind blown sand and other forces
Curiosity’s Mastcam instrument took this image of the Glenelg area of Gale Crater showing sedimentary deposits which data indicates have only been exposed for 80 million years

At the moment, an international team of astronomers and scientists are going over the data provided by Curiosity and ChemCam in order to list the chemical elements contained within the 420 samples they fired the laser at. This will give them a good idea of the chemical elements on the surface of Mars’ Gale Crater and the geophysical processes that formed them. ChemCam fires an infrared laser at rocks and soil targets to create plasma gas, which it analysis using a scientific technique called laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy.

NASA scientists recently dated a Martian rock at between 3.86 and 4.56 billion years old
A rock in the Sheepbed Mudstone deposit of Gale Crater was the first Martian rock scientists measured the age of

Curiosity is the first NASA mission to use this scientific technique to analysis rocks and soils on a different planet, but certainly not the last. You can learn more about ChemCam at

You can find more on NASA’s Curiosity spacecraft and its mission to Mars at and You can follow the Curiosity spacecraft mission on Facebook at: and on Twitter at:

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Watch videos about Curiosity on YouTube here

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NASA’s Curiosity Almost Ready to Journey to Mars

NASA scientists and engineers preparing Curiosity for her journey to Mars

NASA images

One of the latest envoys of the human journey to the beginning of space and time, the Mars rover Curiosity

Astronomy News – The human journey to the beginning of space and time will get a detailed view of Mars using the Mast Camera on NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity, once the spacecraft lands on the surface of Mars, sometime around August 2012, according to the latest estimates by NASA astronomers. Space travel is by necessity extremely well planned and every detail must be worked out to a set time table if Curiosity is to accomplish its mission. All aspects of the mission parameters must be analysed and reanalysed to ensure everything works as expected and the mission sticks to the timetable set by engineers and scientists working to get the spacecraft ready to journey to Mars, sometime between November 25 and December 18, 2011. The Mast Camera on Curiosity is in fact two digital color cameras riding high on the mast, each capable of recording high-definition video at about 8 frames per second, and taking and storing thousands of full-color images of the Red Planet in an eight-gigabyte flash memory. Once they combine the information taken by both cameras scientists and engineers will get detailed 3-D images of Mars as good as or better than any taken before.

This sensor head will play a key role in the mission success of Curiosity


Curiosity  will conduct chemical tests of the soil and rocks of Mars

NASA’s Mars Rover will also have onboard a “chemical element reader” to measure the different chemical ingredients making up the soil and rocks of Mars. This particular instrument, along with nine others on board the spacecraft will be looking at the present and past ability habitability of a specific spot on the Red Planet. The Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) instrument viewed here was designed by physics professor Ralf Gellert of the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. This instrument uses alpha particles, or helium nuclei, and X-rays to bombard the Martian soil or a rock, which will cause the target to emit its own characteristic alpha particles and X-ray radiation. This emitted radiation will be detected by an X-ray detector inside the sensor head, which will be analysed by Mars scientists to see which elements are within the soil or rock. The exact identification of the elements that make up the Martian soil and rocks will help planet scientists determine the building blocks of the Martian crust, and any possible weathering of the soil or rock since it was formed.

Check out NASA’s Curiosity here

The Mars Science Laboratory is managed by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. For more information, visit . You can follow the mission on Facebook at and on Twitter @marscuriosity . A full listing of JPL social media accounts is at: .

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