DEATH VALLEY, Calif. — Death Valley isn’t a ideal substitute for Mars — it’s too prohibited here, for starters — though it’s a good place to learn what NASA‘s new Curiosity corsair will be doing once it arrives on a Red Planet in a few months.
The Curiosity rover is fundamentally a outrageous drudge geologist, and Death Valley is a geologist’s dream landscape. Researchers have been entrance here for decades, investigate a desert’s many ancient nonetheless permitted stone layers to provoke out Earth’s formidable and involved history.
One of these researchers is Caltech’s John Grotzinger, who also happens to be a Curiosity mission’s lead scientist. Grotzinger came out to Death Valley Monday and Tuesday (April 30 and May 1) to give a cackle of reporters an inside demeanour during how a 1-ton corsair will go about a business.
A dried substitute for Mars
Curiosity, a centerpiece of NASA’s $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, launched in Nov and is due to hold down during a Red Planet’s Gale Crater on a night of Aug. 5. The rover’s categorical charge is to consider either a Gale Crater area is, or ever was, able of ancillary microbial life. [Photos: Curiosity's Gale Crater on Mars]
To get during this question, Curiosity will take a accumulation of geological and geochemical measurements with a 10 scholarship instruments. The MSL group will investigate this information in an bid to know a expansion of Gale and Mount Sharp, a puzzling 3-mile-high (5 kilometers) pile rising from a crater’s center.
Such investigator work can be formidable adequate for teams of tellurian scientists here on Earth, so Curiosity has a large plea forward of it, Grotzinger said. But during slightest there are no image tectonics on Mars to chuck a stone layers into a treacherous jumble, as has happened here in Death Valley and many other places on a planet.
“The cold thing about Gale is, a lot of what we get is only laid out prosaic for us to go study,” Grotzinger said.
On Monday and Tuesday, Grotzinger took a 9 or so reporters with him to several sites via Death Valley. At any stop, he explained a bit some-more of a margin geologist’s craft, deliberating how researchers review rocks to appreciate a story and interplay of opposite layers.
We even attempted a palm during this ourselves. Like Geology 101 students on a margin trip, we bashed a banded stone detached with hammers, complicated a unprotected grains and sketched an outcrop’s stratigraphy in a margin notebooks.
There’s a lot of information dark in those layers, and in those grains. Grotzinger explained that fine-grained stone expected shaped in calmer, deeper water, while large-grained stones are demonstrative of a shallower, some-more violent aqueous environment.
He forked out a rope of stone on a lost towering that noted a range of a Cambrian duration — a time, about 540 million years ago, when macroscopic, multicellular life on Earth exploded into a outrageous accumulation of forms.
And Grotzinger took us to another site, nearby an aged deserted talc mine. Just upslope from a outrageous pile of bleached white rock, he showed us an outcrop bristling with fossilized stromatolites during slightest 1 billion years old.
Stromatolites are structures combined by sticky, sediment-trapping microbial mats. They grow, covering by layer, as a microbes imitate and obstacle some-more silt and dirt. Observing such structures on Mars would be an intriguing though vague pointer of Red Planet life, given abiotic processes also can furnish stromatolite-like objects.
“These are some of a best stromatolites you’ll see in western North America,” Grotzinger said. “If we ever found anything like this with MSL, we would stop and investigate it. And it competence be a unequivocally good place to come behind and do sample-return.”
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