Thursday, March 6, 2014

Small Pale Red Planet Issue 3 Phase 8.2



Topographical Map of the Aeolis Region

The Reason this Phase has been split into two Phases (chapters) is there is  a large amount of information discovered by the Curiosity and the Spirit Rovers that need to be considered.  Since we are finished with Curiosity this Phase will deal with the Spirit Rover which did it’s work while it was operational on the opposite (east) side of the Aeolis Region.


Going eastward in the Elysium Planitia in the north of the Aeolis Region we come to the Avernus Colles at 171°1°S.


Avernus Colles

Avernus Colles is a region of hills' separated by arcuate (delta-like) fractures. These features are the margin between the southern highlands and Elysium Planitia to the north.  This VIS image shows a portion of Avernus Colles. The term "colles" means small hills, and the surface here is being fractured into many small hills and mesas.


To the southeast of the Avernus Colles are the Avernus Cavi at about 173°E 4°S.



Avernus Cavi Fractures

Cavi means exactly what it sounds like- the Avernus Cavi are  pits or  cavities in the terrain of Mars


Depression in Avernus Cavi Region

To the southwest of the Cavi is the ridges of the Avernus Dorsa between 170-171°E and as far south as 9°S.



Avernus Dorsa


Avernus was believed to be the entrance to the underworld, and is portrayed as such in the Aeneid of Virgil.  So the name has a classical origin.

To the east of the Avernus Cavi is the Tartarus Scopulus which occupies the northeast corner of the Aeolis Region.


Tartarus Scopulus

Tartars Scopulus is an area of lobate scarps.  Tartarus is a classical term for the hell where people were judged in the classical poets.


Apollinaris Patera, a large volcano, which lies directly north of Gusev Crater.  It is located at 174°E 9°S.


Apollinaris Patera (Apollinaris Mons)

In April 1999, the Mars Global Surveyor Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) passed over the Apollinaris Patera volcano and captured a patch of bright clouds hanging over its summit in the early Martian afternoon. This ancient volcano is located near the equator and--based on observations from the 1970s Viking Orbiters--is thought to be as much as 5 kilometers (3 miles) high. The caldera--the semi-circular crater at the volcano summit--is about 80 kilometers (50 miles) across.  Apollinaris Mons is an ancient shield volcano in the southern hemisphere of Mars. It is situated near the equator, south of Elysium Planitia and north of Gusev crater. Elysium Planitia separates it from the volcanic province of Elysium to its northwest. The volcano's caldera is named Apollinaris Patera; this name formerly applied to the whole edifice.  Apollinaris Mons is about 5 kilometers high with a base about 296 kilometers in diameter. On the top of this volcano is a caldera about 80 km (50 miles) in diameter. The volcano is approximately 3 to 3.5 billion years old.  It was named in 1973 after a mountain spring near Rome in Italy.  A study using a global climate model found that the Medusae Fossae Formation could have been formed from ash from Apollinaris Mons, Arsia Mons, and possibly Pavonis Mons.


To the east of the Volcano is the Matrona Vallis located at 176°E 8°S.


Matrona Vallis

Matrona Vallis is 51 kilometers long and is named after the classical name for Marne River in France.


To the east of the Matrona Valles all the way to the eastern border of the Aeolis Region is the Lucus Planum.   Roughly 177-180°E and 5-10°S.


A Fading Impact Crater in Lucus Planum

This cluster of craters formed quite recently from a weak impacter that broke apart in Mars' thin atmosphere before smashing into the surface. It was discovered by the MRO Context Camera (CTX) Team, who found a dark spot in a CTX image taken in August 2008 that was not present in earlier Mars Odyssey Mission THEMIS images from July 2005. HiRISE examined the feature in October 2008 and verified that the dark spot was impact ejecta excavated from beneath the bright surface.   On June 25 2012, HiRISE took another look at the young crater to see how it had fared after two Martian years. This image was timed to closely match the illumination and viewing conditions of the earlier HiRISE image. A comparison of the two images shows that the dark halo surrounding the crater cluster has nearly vanished. The delicate rays extending beyond the halo are also significantly faded. Only the individual craters remain distinctly dark in the new image. This observation is important for two reasons. First, it raises questions about the Martian winds and sediments that produce such changes. Did the dark ejecta blow away, or was it buried by a layer of bright dust? Second, it tells us that the window for detection of these young craters can be very short. In this case, the dark spot that drew the attention of the Context Camera Team was the 200-meter diameter halo of ejecta that encircled the crater cluster. After two Martian years, the halo is gone and the impact cluster would not be easily detected.


The Lucas Planum area is located east of  the Apollinaris Mons all the way to the eastern border of the Aeolis Region.  It is a plateau that stretches from 176.5°E to 180°E  and from 5 to 10°S.\



Wind Erosion in Lucus Planum

The action of the wind continues to shape the surface of Mars. This region has been eroded by the wind into parallel hills.


To the west of Apollinaris Mons there is Reuyl Crater centered at 167°E 10°S.


Reuyl Crater

This Martian feature and was named after Dirk Reuyl, a Dutch-American physicist and astronomer (1906–1972) who made astronomical measurements of the diameter of Mars in the 1940s.


To the southeast of Reuyl Crater is Zephyria Mensae located at  177°E 11°S.


Zephyria Mensae

A Mensae is a Mesa in planetary geology.  Mensae are  usually  grouped with Fretted terrain, which is a type of surface feature common to certain areas of Mars and was discovered in Mariner 9 images. It lies between two different types of terrain. The surface of Mars can be divided into two parts: low, young, un-cratered plains that cover most of the northern hemisphere, and high-standing, old, heavily cratered areas that cover the southern and a small part of the northern hemisphere. In fretted terrain, the land seems to transition from narrow straight valleys to isolated mesas. Most of the mesas are surrounded by forms that have been given a variety of names: circum-mesa aprons, debris aprons, rock glaciers, and lobate debris aprons. At first, they appeared to resemble rock glaciers on Earth. But scientists could not be sure. Even after the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) took a variety of pictures of fretted terrain, experts could not tell for sure if material was moving or flowing as it would in an ice-rich deposit (glacier).  Eventually, proof of their true nature was discovered when radar studies with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showed that they contained pure water ice covered with a thin layer of rocks that insulated the ice.


Just to the south of Zephyria Mensae the area opens up into a huge crater called de Vaucouleuers Crater centered at  171°E 13°S.


de Vaucouleurs Crater

de Vaucouleurs Crater is 293 Kilometers in diameter and was named after Gérard Henri de Vaucouleurs (25 April 1918 – 7 October 1995) who was a French astronomer.   He specialized in the study of galaxies and was co-author of the Third Reference Catalogue of Bright Galaxies.


Mars Exploration Rover Landing Site at Gusev Crater  HiRISE DTM

“Spirit”, MER-A (Mars Exploration Rover – A), was a robotic rover on Mars, active from 2004 to 2010. It was one of two rovers of NASA's ongoing Mars Exploration Rover Mission. It landed successfully on Mars at 04:35 Ground UTC on January 4, 2004, three weeks before its twin, Opportunity (MER-B), landed on the other side of the planet. Its name was chosen through a NASA-sponsored student essay competition.


Mars Exploration Rover "Spirit" took this mosaic on 16th sol. It shows the now useless landing  sheath at the landing site.


Schematic of the rover type that is Spirit and Opportunity


Adirondack Rock

Adirondack is the nickname for Mars Exploration Rover Spirit's first target rock. Scientists chose Adirondack to be Spirit's first target rock after considering another, called Sashimi, that would have been a shorter, straight-ahead drive. Spirit traversed the sandy Martian terrain at Gusev Crater to arrive in front of this football-sized rock on January 18, 2004, just three days after it successfully rolled off the lander.  Scientists named the angular rock after the Adirondack mountain range in New York.  The rock was selected as Spirit's first target because its dust-free, flat surface is ideally suited for grinding. Clean surfaces also are better for examining a rock's top coating. Spirit has also returned microscopic images and Mössbauer spectrometer readings of Adirondack taken the day before the rover developed computer and communication problems on January 22, 2004. Both are unprecedented investigations of any rock on another planet. The microscopic images indicate Adirondack is a hard, crystalline rock. The peaks large and small in Adirondack's electromagnetic spectrum reveal that the minerals in the rock include olivine, pyroxene and magnetite - a common composition in volcanic basalt rocks on Earth.


The round, shallow depression in this image resulted from history's first grinding of a rock on Mars.

Adirondack has been very slightly altered, probably by thin films of water because they are softer and contain veins of light colored material that may be bromine compounds, as well as coatings or rinds. It is thought that small amounts of water may have gotten into cracks inducing mineralization processes.


The Spirit Rover discovered that the rocks on the plains of Gusev are a type of basalt. They contain the minerals olivine, pyroxene, plagioclase, and magnetite, and they look like volcanic basalt as they are fine-grained with irregular holes (geologists would say they have vesicles and vugs). Much of the soil on the plains came from the breakdown of the local rocks. Fairly high levels of nickel were found in some soils; probably from meteorites.  Analysis shows that the rocks have been slightly altered by tiny amounts of water. Outside coatings and cracks inside the rocks suggest water deposited minerals, maybe bromine compounds. All the rocks contain a fine coating of dust and one or more harder kinds of material. One type can be brushed off, while another needed to be ground off by the Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT).


Apollo Hills Panorama

There are a variety of rocks in the Columbia Hills (Mars), some of which have been altered by water, but not by very much water. The dust in Gusev Crater is the same as dust all around the planet. All the dust was found to be magnetic. Moreover, Spirit found the magnetism was caused by the mineral magnetite, especially magnetite that contained the element titanium. One magnet was able to completely divert all dust hence all Martian dust is thought to be magnetic. The spectra of the dust was similar to spectra of bright, low thermal inertia regions like Tharsis and Arabia that have been detected by orbiting satellites.

Spirit Rover First Three Years


Humphrey Rock: "If we found this rock on Earth, we would say it is a volcanic rock that had a little fluid moving through it," Arvidson said. If this interpretation is correct, the fluid -- water with minerals dissolved in it -- may have been carried in the original magma that formed the rock or may have interacted with the rock later, he said.  The clues appear in an interior exposure of "Humphrey" where Spirit's rock abrasion tool scraped away the rock's surface to a depth of 2 millimeters (.08 inch). To gain more confidence that the bright material seen in cracks and pores is not dust that has intruded from the surface over the millennia, scientists intend to have Spirit grind more deeply into another dark rock, not yet selected. The bright material is not debris from the grinding process, said Stephen Gorevan of Honeybee Robotics, New York, lead scientist for the abrasion tool.

Spirit’s Discoveries

Bonneville crater On sol 65 March 11, 2004, the Spirit rover reached Bonneville crater after a 400-yard (370 m) journey.  This crater is about 200 meters (220 yd) across with a floor about 10 meters (11 yd) below the surface. JPL decided that it would be a bad idea to send the rover down into the crater, as they saw no targets of interest inside. Spirit drove along the southern rim and continued to the southwest towards the Columbia Hills.

Dust whirlwinds (dust devils):On March 9, 2005 (probably during the Martian night), the rover's solar panel efficiency jumped from around 60% of what it had originally been to 93%, followed on March 10, by the sighting of dust devils. NASA scientists speculate a dust devil must have swept the solar panels clean, possibly significantly extending the duration of the mission. This also marks the first time dust devils had been spotted by either Spirit or Opportunity, easily one of the top highlights of the mission to date. Dust devils had previously been photographed by only the Pathfinder probe.  Mission members monitoring the Spirit rover on Mars reported on sol 421 March 12, 2005, that a lucky encounter with a dust devil had cleaned the solar panels of that robot. Power levels dramatically increased and daily science work was anticipated to be expanded.
Husband Hill:  As of August Spirit was only 100 meters from the top away. Here they had found out that Husband Hill has two summits, with one a little higher than the other. On September 29, the 618th sol Spirit reached the real summit of Husband Hill. The rover was the first spacecraft to climb atop a mountain on another planet. The whole driven distance summed up to 4971 meters. The summit itself was flat. Spirit took a 360 degree panorama in real color, which included the whole Gusev crater. At night the rover observed the mars moons Phobos and Deimos in order to determine their orbits better. On sol 656 Spirit surveyed the mars sky and the atmospheric opacity with its pan-cam to make a coordinated science campaign with the Hubble space telescope in the earth orbit.

Comanche Rock Outcrop: From the peak Spirit could spot a striking formation, which was dubbed Home Plate. This was an interesting target, but Spirit should be drive later to the McCool Hill to tilt its solar panels towards the sun in the coming winter. At the end of October the rover was driven downhill and to Home Plate. On the way down Spirit reached a rock formation named Comanche on sol 690. Scientists used data from all three spectrometers to find out that about one-fourth of the composition of Comanche is magnesium iron carbonate. That concentration is 10 times higher than for any previously identified carbonate in a Martian rock. Carbonates originate in wet, near-neutral conditions but dissolve in acid. The find at Comanche is the first unambiguous evidence from the Mars Exploration Mission rovers for a past Martian environment that may have been more favorable to life than the wet but acidic conditions indicated by the rovers' earlier finds.  A scientist in the video says the rover was not intended to search for life-then I would like to know why it was sent there for in the first place ?

While at Low Haven Ridge: Spirit imaged two rocks of similar chemical nature to that of Opportunity's Heat Shield Rock, a meteorite on the surface of Mars. Named "Zhong Shan" for Sun Yat-sen and "Allan Hills" for the location in Antarctica where several Martian meteorites have been found, they stood out against the background rocks that were darker. Further spectrographic testing is being done to determine the exact composition of these rocks, which may turn out to also be meteorites.

Silica Valley:  Rover exposes silica-rich dust.  Spirit's dead wheel turned out to be a mixed blessing. As it was traveling in March 2007, pulling the dead wheel behind, the wheel scraped off the upper layer of the Martian soil, uncovering a patch of ground that scientists say shows evidence of a past environment that would have been perfect for microbial life. It is similar to areas on Earth where water or steam from hot springs came into contact with volcanic rocks. On Earth, these are locations that tend to teem with bacteria, said rover chief scientist Steve Squyres. "We're really excited about this," he told a meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). The area is extremely rich in silica–the main ingredient of window glass. The researchers have now concluded that the bright material must have been produced in one of two ways. One: hot-spring deposits produced when water dissolved silica at one location and then carried it to another (i.e. a geyser). Two: acidic steam rising through cracks in rocks stripped them of their mineral components, leaving silica behind. "The important thing is that whether it is one hypothesis or the other, the implications for the former habitability of Mars are pretty much the same," Squyres explained to BBC News. Hot water provides an environment in which microbes can thrive and the precipitation of that silica entombs and preserves them. Squyres added, "You can go to hot springs and you can go to fumaroles and at either place on Earth it is teeming with life – microbial life.


The Martian Plains:: "This is the first color image of Mars taken by the panoramic camera on the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit. It was the highest resolution image ever taken on the surface of another planet."

Spirit's miniature thermal emission spectrometer observed the patch of Silica, and Steve Ruff of Arizona State University, Tempe, noticed that its spectrum showed a high silica content. The team has laid out plans for further study of the soil patch and surrounding deposits. Exploring a low range of hills inside a Connecticut-sized basin named Gusev Crater, Spirit had previously found other indicators of long-ago water at the site, such as patches of water-bearing, sulfur-rich soil; alteration of minerals; and evidence of explosive volcanism.


Cross-sectional drawing of a typical rock from the plains of Gusev crater. Most rocks contain a coating of dust and one or more harder coatings. Veins of water-deposited veins are visible, along with crystals of olivine. Veins may contain bromine salts.

Columbia Hills:  Scientists found a variety of rock types in the Columbia Hills, and they placed them into six different categories. The six are: Clovis, Wishbone, Peace, Watchtower, Backstay, and Independence. They are named after a prominent rock in each group. Their chemical compositions, as measured by APXS, are significantly different from each other.  Most importantly, all of the rocks in Columbia Hills show various degrees of alteration due to aqueous fluids. They are enriched in the elements phosphorus, sulfur, chlorine, and bromine—all of which can be carried around in water solutions. The Columbia Hills’ rocks contain basaltic glass, along with varying amounts of olivine and sulfates. The olivine abundance varies inversely with the amount of sulfates. This is exactly what is expected because water destroys olivine but helps to produce sulfates. The Clovis group is especially interesting because the Mössbauer spectrometer(MB) detected goethite in it. Goethite forms only in the presence of water, so its discovery is the first direct evidence of past water in the Columbia Hills's rocks. In addition, the MB spectra of rocks and outcrops displayed a strong decline in olivine presence, although the rocks probably once contained much olivine. Olivine is a marker for the lack of water because it easily decomposes in the presence of water. Sulfate was found, and it needs water to form. Wishstone contained a great deal of plagioclase, some olivine, and anhydrate (a sulfate). Peace rocks showed sulfur and strong ev

idence for bound water, so hydrated sulfates are suspected. Watchtower class rocks lack olivine consequently they may have been altered by water. The Independence class showed some signs of clay (perhaps montmorillonite a member of the smectite group). Clays require fairly long term exposure to water to form. One type of soil, called Paso Robles, from the Columbia Hills, may be an evaporate deposit because it contains large amounts of sulfur, phosphorus, calcium, and iron. Also, MB found that much of the iron in Paso Robles soil was of the oxidized, Fe+++ form, which would happen if water had been present.

In 2009 the Spirit got stuck in soft soil (also known as the “sand trap“) and was unable to gain traction to get the solar panels into a  position to recharge the batteries.  It was decided in 2010 to give Spirit a stationary mission.  But the battery power had ran down to the point that by March 2010 Spirit ceased to be operational and has been that way ever since and no further communication was possible. Thus the end of the Mission of the Mars Rover Spirit.


To the southwest of Gusev Crater is Kayne Crater at 174°E 15.5°S.


Central Uplift of Kayne Crater

Kayne Crater is 34.9 kilometers in diameter and is named after a Botswana place name.


To the southwest of Kayne Crater is the Durius Valles 171.5°E 16°S.


Durius Valles

Durius Valles is 223 kilometers in length and is named for Classical name for the Douro River in Portugal.


Directly east of this feature is the Apollinaris Tholus at 176°E 17.5°S.


Location of Apollinaris Tholus

Apollinaris Tholus is a mountain  to the south of Gusev Crater and to the west of  the deep and long Ma’adim Vallis .


Apollinaris Tholus

To the southwest is another mountain Zephyria Tholus located at 175.5°E 19.5°S.


Zephyria Tholus

This image covers some high-standing topography just outside the rim of an approximately 30 kilometer diameter impact crater. What formed this hill? Could it be a volcano? That was hypothesized to be the case in a paper published in 2001, and this suggestion was entered to test that idea, perhaps from seeing internal layering exposed by the crater.  So what does the HiRISE image show us? Mostly it shows a dust mantle, hiding the bedrock it was intended to study.  This photo was taken near the small dome-shaped mountain, Zephyria Tholus, which is located in Terra Cimmeria. The closest major feature to this location is Ma'adim Vallis, which is to the east.   


Next we come to Ma’adim Valles which outflows into Gusev Crater from the south the source appears to be in the southeast corner of the Aeolis Region.


Ma’adim Vallis Riverbed

Ma'adim Vallis is a large, ancient river valley,  enters at the south rim of Gusev Crater, therefore Gusev Crater was believed to be an ancient lake bed. However, it seems that a volcanic flow covered up the lakebed sediments.  This image shows a network of small valleys in the Terra Cimmeria region of the Martian southern highlands. This location is approximately 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) south of Gusev Crater, the landing site of the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit.  The valleys in this image are carved into light-toned bedrock exhibiting a range of colors, which likely reflect a range of mineralogical compositions. The bedrock is pervasively fractured, and some of the fractures appear to be filled with material of a different color, possibly composed of minerals that crystallized or were cemented together when fluids (perhaps water) circulated through the fractures.  On the right side of the sub image is a valley filled with dark material and a central, bright ridge. If the valley was carved by liquid water, then this ridge may mark a former stream channel where coarse-grained sediment was deposited, which has survived erosion more effectively than the finer-grained sediment in the valley outside the channel.  Similar “inverted channel” deposits are visible elsewhere on Mars, and some examples in the southern highlands have been inferred to contain chloride salts (similar to table salt). The color and texture of the possible inverted channels in this image are similar to those inferred to contain chlorides, which may have been deposited when salty water evaporated.   This image is located about halfway between Ariadnes Colles and the source of Ma'adim Vallis.


NASA likes to say that there is no definitive evidence for bio-signatures or organics of Martian origin that has been identified.  Therefore an assessment will continue not only through the Martian seasons, but also back in time as they  study what is recorded in the depositional history of the rocks of Mars.  While the Curiosity has not identified the minimum number of parameters for determination of habitability potential, other teams have proposed hypotheses based on simulations.  Only a manned mission will prove conclusively that life once existed and/or still exists there.  Machines do not have the intelligence to make that determination.  If sentient life exists there it would do everything in its power not to be discovered- or to be discovered whenever it decides to allow it to happen.  We do not have control of that.  If such a discovery happened to a machine by accident it would not be able to tell the difference.  Only an astronaut would be capable of coming to that kind of conclusion.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Small Pale Red Planet Issue 3 Phase 8.1


The Aeolis Region




Topographical Map of the Aeolis Region

The Aeolis quadrangle covers 180° to 225° W and 0° to 30° south on Mars. It is famous as the site of two spacecraft landings: the Spirit Rover landing site ( 14.5°S 175.4°E) in Gusev crater (January 4, 2004), and the Curiosity Rover in Gale Crater ( 4.5°S 137.4°E) (August 6, 2012).


Two Rovers in the Same Region\


A large, ancient river valley, called Ma'adim Vallis, enters at the south rim of Gusev Crater, so Gusev Crater was believed to be an ancient lake bed. However, it seems that a volcanic flow covered up the lakebed sediments. Apollinaris Patera, a large volcano, lies directly north of Gusev Crater. Gale Crater, in the northwestern part of the Aeolis Region, is of special interest to geologists because it contains a 2–4 km (1.2–2.5 mile) high mound of layered sedimentary rocks, named "Mount Sharp" by NASA in honor of Robert P. Sharp (1911–2004), a planetary scientist of early Mars missions. More recently, on 16 May 2012, "Mount Sharp" was officially named Aeolis Mons by the USGS and IAU.  Some regions in the Aeolis Region show inverted relief. In these locations, a stream bed may be a raised feature, instead of a valley. The inverted former stream channels may be caused by the deposition of large rocks or due to cementation. In either case erosion would erode the surrounding land but leave the old channel as a raised ridge because the ridge will be more resistant to erosion.  Yardangs are another feature found in this Region. They are generally visible as a series of parallel linear ridges, caused by the direction of the prevailing wind.


Image of the Aeolis Region

Image of the Aeolis Quadrangle (MC-23). The northern part contains the Elysium Planitia. The northeastern part includes Apollinaris Patera. The southern part mostly contains heavily cratered highlands of Terra Cimmeria.


The first feature we come to in this Region is the Aeolis Mensa.  It starts from the northeast corner and proceeds to the southeast it is a huge broken up Mesa from 135-145°E going as far south as 7°.


This image shows a central peak that is surrounded by a ring-like graben feature and relatively flat terrain. Does the graben show evidence of what geologists call "differential compaction"?

Compaction refers to sediment that is originally porous and is covered up by other sediment (called "loading") that reduces that porousness. In other words, sand particles are pushed closer and closer together. Differential compaction is when there is variation in the thickness of a given area that creates uneven surface and has different degrees of porosity. The presence of the graben might be a clue to the formation of such unevenness.


To the east of this feature from 145-150°E is the Aeolis Planum.  A long plateau going to the southeast surrounded by valleys also stretching  as far south as 7°.


Aeolian Erosion Near Aeolis Planum

The wind is responsible for the erosion seen in this VIS image near Aeolis Planum.

Aeolis Planum

The Landing of the Curiosity Rover:


Curiosity was launched from Cape Canaveral on November 26, 2011, at 10:02 EST aboard the MSL spacecraft and successfully landed on Aeolis Palus in Gale Crater on Mars on August 6, 2012, 05:17 UTC. The Bradbury Landing sit was less than 2.4 km (1.5 mi) from the center of the rover's touchdown target after a 563,000,000 km (350,000,000 mi) journey.  Curiosity is a car-sized robotic rover exploring Gale Crater on Mars as part of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission (MSL).


The Landing Site

The descent stage blast pattern around the rover is clearly seen as relatively blue colors (true colors would be more gray). Curiosity landed within Gale Crater, a portion of which is pictured here. The mountain at the center of the crater, called Mount Sharp, is located out of frame to the southeast. North is up. This image was acquired at an angle of 30 degrees from straight down, looking west.


MSL Landing Site in Gale Crate  HiRISE DTM

The landing site of Curiosity Rover was Gale Crater, in the northwestern part of the Aeolis Region, is of special interest to geologists because it contains a 2–4 km (1.2–2.5 mile) high mound of layered sedimentary rocks.  The mound extends higher than the rim of the crater, so perhaps the layering covered an area much larger than the crater. These layers are a complex record of the past. The rock layers probably took millions of years to be laid down within the crater, then more time to be eroded to make them visible. The 5 km high mound is probably the thickest single succession of sedimentary rocks on Mars.


Gale Crater rim about 18 km (11 mi) North of the Curiosity Rover on August 9, 2012.

The Aeolis Region is the only Martian Region to have two successful rover landings in the same region.  Did NASA purposely plan these landings or was it by accident that they  both landed  in the same Region ?



Self-Portrait of the Curiosity Rover


Layers at the Base of Mount Sharp

A chapter of the layered geological history of Mars is laid bare in this postcard from NASA's Curiosity rover. The image shows the base of Mount Sharp, the rover's eventual science destination.  Scientists enhanced the color in one version to show the Martian scene under the lighting conditions we have on Earth, which helps in analyzing the terrain.


Gale Crater and Mount Sharp

Aeolis Mons (Mount Sharp): The mountain appears to be an enormous mound of eroded sedimentary layers sitting on the central peak of Gale. It rises 5.5 km (18,000 ft) above the northern crater floor and 4.5 km (15,000 ft) above the southern crater floor, higher than the southern crater rim. The sediments may have been laid down over an interval of 2 billion years, and may have once completely filled the crater. Some of the lower sediment layers may have originally been deposited on a lakebed, while observations of possibly cross-bedded strata in the upper mound suggest Aeolian processes. However, this issue is debated, and the origin of the lower layers remains unclear.



First Chemical Analysis of Martian Soil by Curiosity 

Discoveries of Curiosity 1

Rocks Discovered by Curiosity:

Goulburn, also known as Goulburn Scour, is a rock outcrop on the surface of Aeolis Palus, between Peace Vallis and Aeolis Mons ("Mount Sharp"),  The outcrop is a well-sorted gravel conglomerate, containing well-rounded, smooth, abraded pebbles. Occasional pebbles up to a few centimeters across are embedded in amongst a matrix of finer rounded particles, up to a centimeter across. It has been interpreted as a fluvial sediment, deposited by a vigorously flowing stream, probably between ankle and waist deep. This stream is part of an ancient alluvial fan, which descends from the steep terrain at the rim of Gale crater across its floor.  covered


Inverted Riverbed in Gale Crater  HiRISE DTM


First Area of Exploration from video and Rock report given.

Hottah is a rock outcrop on the surface of Aeolis Palus, (between Peace Vallis and Aeolis Mons ("Mount Sharp"), in Gale crater on the planet Mars).  The outcrop is a well-sorted gravel conglomerate, containing well-rounded, smooth, abraded pebbles. Occasional pebbles up to a few centimeters across are embedded in amongst a matrix of finer rounded particles, up to a centimeter across.

Jake Matijevic (or Jake M) is a pyramidal rock on the surface of Aeolis Palus, , in Gale crater on the planet Mars. Analytical studies, performed on the rock by the Curiosity rover in October 2012, suggest the Jake M rock is an igneous rock but found to be high in elements consistent with feldspar, such as sodium, aluminum and potassium, and lower concentrations of magnesium, iron and nickel than other such rocks previously found on Mars. The mineral content and elemental abundance indicates Jake M rock may be a mugearite, a sodium rich oligoclase-bearing basaltic trachyandesite. Igneous rocks similar to the Jake M rock are well known but occur rarely on Earth. On Earth, such rocks form when magma, usually found in volcanoes, rises to the surface, cools and partially solidifies with certain chemical elements, while the warmer liquid magma portion becomes enriched with the left-behind elements.
Bathurst Inlet' Rock on Curiosity's Sol 54, Close-Up View. This is the highest-resolution view that the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity acquired of the top of a rock called "Bathurst Inlet." The rover's arm held the camera with the lens only about 1.6 inches (4 centimeters) from the rock. The view covers an area roughly 1.3 inches by 1 inch (3.3 centimeters by 2.5 centimeters). At this distance, the camera provides resolution of 21 microns per pixel. For comparison, the typical resolution in images from the Microscopic Imager cameras on earlier-generation Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity is about 31 microns per pixel.  The Bathurst Inlet rock is dark gray and appears to be so fine-grained that MAHLI cannot resolve grains or crystals in it. This means that the grains or crystals, if there are any at all, are smaller than about 80 microns in size. Some windblown sand-sized grains or dust aggregates have accumulated on the surface of the rock.
Point Lake Outcrop-One priority target for a closer look by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity before the rover departs the "Glenelg" area east of its landing site is the pitted outcrop called "Point Lake," in the upper half of this image. The outcrop as seen from this angle is about 7 feet (2 meters) wide and 20 inches (50 centimeters) high. The texture, with its voids or cavities, sets Point Lake apart from other outcrops in the vicinity. A closer inspection may yield information about whether it is a volcanic or sedimentary deposit.


Glenelg, Mars (or Glenelg Intrigue) is a location on Mars near the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity rover) landing site ("Bradbury Landing") in Gale Crater marked by a natural intersection of three kinds of terrain.  The location was named Glenelg by NASA scientists for two reasons: all features in the immediate vicinity were given names associated with Yellowknife in northern Canada, and Glenelg is the name of a geological feature there. Furthermore, the name is a palindrome, and as the Curiosity rover will visit the location twice (once coming, and once going) this was an appealing feature for the name. The original Glenelg is a village in Scotland. The trek to Glenelg will send the rover 400 m (1,300 ft) east-southeast of its landing site. One of the three types of terrain intersecting at Glenelg is layered bedrock, which is attractive as the first drilling target.


“Shaler" is rock outcrop near the Glenelg Area on Mars - as viewed by the Mast-Cam on the Curiosity rover.


Discoveries of Curiosity 2

Rocknest is a sand patch on the surface of Aeolis Palus. The sand patch is downhill from a cluster of dark rocks. NASA determined the patch to be the location for the first use of the scoop on the arm of the Mars Curiosity rover.  The "Rocknest" patch is about 1.5 m (4.9 ft) by 5 m (16 ft).  On October 17, 2012 at "Rocknest", the first X-ray diffraction analysis of Martian soil was performed. The results from the rover's CheMin analyzer revealed the presence of several minerals, including feldspar, pyroxenes and olivine, and suggested that the Martian soil in the sample was similar to the "weathered basaltic soils" of Hawaiian volcanoes. On September 26, 2013, NASA scientists reported the Mars Curiosity rover detected "abundant, easily accessible" water (1.5 to 3 weight percent) in soil samples at the Rocknest region of Aeolis Palus in Gale Crater. In addition, NASA reported the rover found two principal soil types: a fine-grained mafic type and a locally derived, coarse-grained felsic type.


Sulfate and Clay Strata in Gale Crater  HiRISE DTM

"Darwin,"is a rock outcrop inside Gale Crater. The exposed outcrop at this location, visible in images from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, prompted Curiosity's science team to select it as the mission's first waypoint during the mission's long trek from the "Glenelg" area to Mount Sharp.  Reddish dust coats much of the surface that is visible , but the patch of rock also offers some bare patches where sand and pebble grains can be seen. Pebbles here are mostly gray, with some white in them. Some grains are somewhat translucent, and some are shiny. Researchers interpret the sand and pebbles in the rock as material that was deposited by flowing water, then later buried and cemented into rock. Curiosity's science team is studying the textures and composition of the conglomerate rock at Darwin to understand its relationship to streambed conglomerate rock found closer to Curiosity's landing site.

Cooperstown is a  rock outcrop ridge.  The drive brought Curiosity to about 262 feet (about 80 meters) from "Cooperstown," an outcrop bearing candidate targets for examination with instruments on the rover's arm.    The ridge extends roughly 100 feet (about 30 meters) from left to right, and it is about 262 feet (about 80 meters) away from the location from where Curiosity was located.  "What interests us about this site is an intriguing outcrop of layered material visible in the orbital images," said Kevin Lewis of Princeton University, Princeton, N.J., a participating scientist for the mission who has been a leader in planning the Cooperstown activities. "We want to see how the local layered outcrop at Cooperstown may help us relate

the geology of Yellowknife Bay to the geology of Mount Sharp."

Dingo Gap:this Martian Valley May Be Curiosity's Route.  The team operating Curiosity has chosen this valley as a likely route toward mid-term and long-term science destinations.  "Dingo Gap," is about 3 feet (1 meter) high in the middle and tapered at south and north ends onto low scarps on either side of the gap.


Journey of Curiosity as of 2/3/14 Dingo Gap at bottom of Image Shaler at the top

We now leave Curiosity behind and continue to Survey the rest of the Aeolis Region of Mars.  Not far to the south of Gale Crater we come to the next important feature  Lasswitz Crater centered at 3.5°E 9°S.


Lasswitz Crater

Lasswitz Crater is 111 kilometers in diameter. The Crater is named after  Kurd Lasswitz (German: Kurd Laßwitz,; 20 April 1848 – 17 October 1910) who was a German author, scientist, and philosopher. He has been called "the father of German science fiction.


The next large feature we come to is Wien Crater located right next to Lasswitz Crater to the southeast centered at  140°E 10.5 °S.


Wien Crater

Wien Crater is  120.4 kilometers in diameter.  The Crater is named after Wilhelm Carl Werner Otto Fritz Franz Wien (German); 13 January 1864 – 30 August 1928)who was a German physicist who, in 1893, used theories about heat and electromagnetism to deduce Wien's displacement law, which calculates the emission of a blackbody at any temperature from the emission at any one reference temperature.


The Terra Cimmeria Area begins at about 10.5°S but at about 158°E moves southward and stops at about 15°S and continues east to the eastern border of the Aeolis Region.  Just west of Wien Crater we see another part of Terra Cimmeria at 144.8°E 10.6°S.


Crater Delta in Terra Cimmeria

A small fan-shaped delta is located where a channel meets the floor of this unnamed crater in Terra Cimmeria.


The next important feature we come to is Soffen Crater centered at 142° E 25°S.


Soffen Crater

Soffen Crater is 30 kilometers in diameter.  The Crater is named after Dr. Gerald A. Soffen (February 7, 1926 – November 22, 2000), known as Jerry or Gerry, was a NASA scientist and educator who served in a wide variety of roles for the space agency, primarily dealing with either education or with life sciences—especially the search for life on Mars.


To the southeast of Soffen Crater is Molesworth Crater centered at  150°E 28°S.


.Molesworth Crater

There is  a Central uplift of a smaller Unnamed crater on the floor of Molesworth Crater,   dark sand dunes can be seen on left side of the smaller crater.  Molesworth Crater is a crater in the Aeolis Region of Mars. It is 181 km in diameter and was named after Percy B. Molesworth, a British astronomer (1867–1908).


To the northeast of this crater is Graff Crater centered at 153.5° E 21°.


Graff Crater

Graff Crater is 158 kilometers in diameter.  It was named after Kasimir Romuald Graff (February 7, 1878 – February 15, 1950) who was a German astronomer. He worked as an assistant at the Hamburg Observatory and became a professor at Hamburg in 1916. In 1928 he became director of the Vienna Observatory, Austria. Using a 60 cm telescope, he was very adept in creating planetary maps from visual observations.


Not the northeast of Graff Crater is the Hadley Crater which is a crater within a crater.  It is centered at 157.5°E 19°S.


Hadley Crater

The Mars Express images show that Hadley Crater was struck multiple times by large asteroids and/or comets after its initial formation and subsequent infilling with lava and sediments.  Earlier in 2012 the spacecraft observed the 120 km wide Hadley Crater, providing a tantalizing insight into the Martian crust. The images show multiple subsequent impacts within the main crater wall, reaching depths of up to 2600 m below the surrounding surface.  This region imaged on 9 April 2012 by the High Resolution Stereo Camera on Mars Express shows the crater which lies to the west of the Al-Qahira Vallis in the transition zone between the old southern highlands and the younger northern lowlands. Hadley is named after the British lawyer and meteorologist George Hadley (1685-1768) whose name was also given to the ‘Hadley cell’, a circulation system in the Earth’s atmosphere, which transports heat and moisture from the tropics up to higher latitudes.  The images show that Hadley Crater was struck multiple times by large asteroids and/or comets after its initial formation and subsequent infilling with lava and sediments.  Some of these later impacts have also been partly buried, with subtle hints of a number of crater rims to the west (top), and wrinkle ridges to the north (right side) of the main crater floor as shown in the image`.   The southern (left) side of the crater appears shallower than the opposite side. This difference can be explained by an erosion process known as mass wasting. This is where surface material moves down a slope under the force of gravity.  Mass wasting can be initially started by a range of processes including earthquakes, erosion at the base of the slope, ice splitting the rocks or water being introduced into the slope material, In this case there is no clear indication which process caused it, or over what timescales this may have occurred.


The next feature we come to is northeast of Hadley Crater-  Al-Qahira Vallis an outflow channel beginning at about 160°E heading on a northeasterly course extending as far north as 165°E 15°S.



Al-Qahira  Vallis

The Al-Qahira Valles is 155 kilometers long a and for the Arabic word for Mars.


Megabreccia in a Terra Cimmeria Impact Crater


"Megabreccia" is a term we use to describe jumbled, fragmented blocks of rock larger than 1 meter across, in a matrix of finer-grained materials. It's the result of energetic processes, typically from an impact event.  This image is located in northern Terra Cimmeria, near the "shore" of Elysium Planitia. The closest named feature is Al-Qahira Vallis, to the northwest.


The next important feature we come to is Boeddicker Crater centered at 162°E 15°S.


Boeddicker Crater

Boeddicker Crater is a crater in the Aeolis Region of Mars, located at 15° south latitude and 162° east longitude. It is 109 km in diameter and was named after Otto Boeddicker, a German astronomer (1853–1937).


North of Boeddicker Crater we enter the Elysium Planitia basin. The Elysium Planitia, located in the Elysium and Aeolis Regions, is a broad plain that straddles the equator of Mars, centered at 3.0°N 154.7°E. It lies to the south of the volcanic province of Elysium, the second largest volcanic region on the planet, after Tharsis.  A 2005 photo of a locale within Elysium Planitia at 5° N, 150° E by the Mars Express spacecraft shows what may be ash-covered water ice. The volume of ice is estimated to be 800 km (500 mi) by 900 km (560 mi) in size and 45 m (148 ft) deep, similar in size and depth to the North Sea. The ice is thought to be the remains of water floods from the Cerberus Fossae fissures about 2 to 10 million years ago. The surface of the area is broken into 'plates' like broken ice floating on a lake. Impact crater counts show that the plates are up to 1 million years older than the gap material, showing that the area solidified much too slowly for the material to be basaltic lava.  The Elysium Planitia covers an area of roughly 3000 kilometers.



Elysium Planitia in the Aeolis Region