Los Alamos National Laboratory

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Curiosity ChemCam finds high-silica Mars rocks

Scientist have found much higher concentrations of silica at some sites the Curiosity rover has investigated in the past seven months than anywhere else it has visited.
December 17, 2015
Scientist have found much higher concentrations of silica at some sites the Curiosity rover has investigated in the past seven months than anywhere else it has visited.

Scientist have found much higher concentrations of silica at some sites the Curiosity rover has investigated in the past seven months than anywhere else it has visited.

A team of scientists, including one from Los Alamos National Laboratory, has found much higher concentrations of silica at some sites the Curiosity rover has investigated in the past seven months than anywhere else it has visited since landing on Mars 40 months ago.

The first discovery was as Curiosity approached the area “Marias Pass,” where a lower geological unit contacts an overlying one. ChemCam, the rover’s laser-firing instrument for checking rock composition from a distance, detected bountiful silica in some targets the rover passed along the way to the contact zone. The ChemCam instrument was developed at Los Alamos in partnership with the French IRAP laboratory in Toulouse and the French Space Agency.

“The high silica was a surprise,” said Jens Frydenvang of Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of Copenhagen, also a Curiosity science team member. “While we’re still working with multiple hypotheses on how the silica got so enriched, these hypotheses all require considerable water activity, and on Earth high silica deposits are often associated with environments that provide excellent support for microbial life. Because of this, the science team agreed to make a rare backtrack to investigate it more.”


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