Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

At future Mars landing spot, scientists spy mineral that could preserve signs of past life

13.11.2019

Next year, NASA plans to launch a new Mars rover to search for signs of ancient life on the Red Planet. A new study shows that the rover's Jezero crater landing site is home to deposits of hydrated silica, a mineral that just happens to be particularly good at preserving biosignatures.

"Using a technique we developed that helps us find rare, hard-to-detect mineral phases in data taken from orbiting spacecraft, we found two outcrops of hydrated silica within Jezero crater," said Jesse Tarnas, a Ph.D. student at Brown University and the study's lead author.


Jezero crater, where NASA plans to land a new Mars rover next year, is home to the remains of an ancient river delta. Researchers have now found deposits of hydrated silica, a mineral that's especially good at preserving microfossils and other signs of past life, near the delta.

Credit: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/MSSS/Brown University


A false-color image of Jezero crater shows the edge of an ancient river delta, where researchers have spied hydrated silica, a mineral that's especially good at preserving microfossils and other signs of past life.

Credit: NASA

"We know from Earth that this mineral phase is exceptional at preserving microfossils and other biosignatures, so that makes these outcrops exciting targets for the rover to explore."

The research is published in Geophysical Research Letters.

NASA announced late last year that its Mars 2020 rover would be headed to Jezero, which appears to have been home to an ancient lake. The star attraction at Jezero is a large delta deposit formed by ancient rivers that fed the lake.

The delta would have concentrated a wealth of material from a vast watershed. Deltas on Earth are known to be good at preserving signs of life. Adding hydrated silica to the mix at Jezero increases that preservation potential, the researchers say. One of the silica deposits was found on the edge of the delta at low elevation.

It's possible that the minerals formed in place and represent the bottom layer of the delta deposit, which is a great scenario for preserving signs of life.

"The material that forms the bottom layer of a delta is sometimes the most productive in terms of preserving biosignatures," said Jack Mustard, a professor at Brown and study co-author. "So if you can find that bottomset layer, and that layer has a lot of silica in it, that's a double bonus."

For the study, researchers used data from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instrument that flies aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The technique applied to the CRISM data used big data analysis methods to tease out the weak spectral signature of the silica deposits.

While the geologic context of the deposits suggests they could have formed at the base of the delta, it's not the only possibility, the researchers say.

The minerals could have formed upstream in the watershed that fed Jezero and been washed subsequently into the crater, by volcanic activity or later episodes of water saturation in the Jezero crater lake. The rover should be able to isolate the real source, the researchers say.

"We can get amazing high-resolution images and compositional data from orbit, but there's a limit on what we can discern in terms of how these minerals formed," Tarnas said. "Given instruments on the rover, however, we should be able to constrain the origin of these deposits."

The rover will be able to perform fine-scale chemical analysis of the deposits and provide a close-up view of how the deposits are situated in relation to surrounding rock units. It will also have a sensor similar to CRISM to link orbital and lander data.

That will go a long way to determining how the deposits formed. What's more, one instrument aboard the rover is able to look for complex organic material. If the silica deposits have high concentrations of organics, it would be an especially intriguing find, the researchers say.

And in addition to the work the rover does on site, it will also cache samples to be returned to Earth by future missions.

"If these deposits present themselves in the form of rocks that are big and competent enough to drill into, they could be put into the cache," Mustard said. "This work suggests that they'd be a great sample to have."

###

The research was funded in part by the NASA Mars Data Analysis Program (NNX13AK72G).

Media Contact

Kevin Stacey
kevin_stacey@brown.edu
401-863-3766

 @brownuniversity

http://news.brown.edu/ 

Kevin Stacey | EurekAlert!
Further information:
https://www.brown.edu/news/2019-11-07/silica
http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2019GL085584

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Supporting structures of wind turbines contribute to wind farm blockage effect
13.12.2019 | American Institute of Physics

nachricht Chinese team makes nanoscopy breakthrough
13.12.2019 | Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Virus multiplication in 3D

Vaccinia viruses serve as a vaccine against human smallpox and as the basis of new cancer therapies. Two studies now provide fascinating insights into their unusual propagation strategy at the atomic level.

For viruses to multiply, they usually need the support of the cells they infect. In many cases, only in their host’s nucleus can they find the machines,...

Im Focus: Cheers! Maxwell's electromagnetism extended to smaller scales

More than one hundred and fifty years have passed since the publication of James Clerk Maxwell's "A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field" (1865). What would our lives be without this publication?

It is difficult to imagine, as this treatise revolutionized our fundamental understanding of electric fields, magnetic fields, and light. The twenty original...

Im Focus: Highly charged ion paves the way towards new physics

In a joint experimental and theoretical work performed at the Heidelberg Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics, an international team of physicists detected for the first time an orbital crossing in the highly charged ion Pr⁹⁺. Optical spectra were recorded employing an electron beam ion trap and analysed with the aid of atomic structure calculations. A proposed nHz-wide transition has been identified and its energy was determined with high precision. Theory predicts a very high sensitivity to new physics and extremely low susceptibility to external perturbations for this “clock line” making it a unique candidate for proposed precision studies.

Laser spectroscopy of neutral atoms and singly charged ions has reached astonishing precision by merit of a chain of technological advances during the past...

Im Focus: Ultrafast stimulated emission microscopy of single nanocrystals in Science

The ability to investigate the dynamics of single particle at the nano-scale and femtosecond level remained an unfathomed dream for years. It was not until the dawn of the 21st century that nanotechnology and femtoscience gradually merged together and the first ultrafast microscopy of individual quantum dots (QDs) and molecules was accomplished.

Ultrafast microscopy studies entirely rely on detecting nanoparticles or single molecules with luminescence techniques, which require efficient emitters to...

Im Focus: How to induce magnetism in graphene

Graphene, a two-dimensional structure made of carbon, is a material with excellent mechanical, electronic and optical properties. However, it did not seem suitable for magnetic applications. Together with international partners, Empa researchers have now succeeded in synthesizing a unique nanographene predicted in the 1970s, which conclusively demonstrates that carbon in very specific forms has magnetic properties that could permit future spintronic applications. The results have just been published in the renowned journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Depending on the shape and orientation of their edges, graphene nanostructures (also known as nanographenes) can have very different properties – for example,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

The Future of Work

03.12.2019 | Event News

First International Conference on Agrophotovoltaics in August 2020

15.11.2019 | Event News

Laser Symposium on Electromobility in Aachen: trends for the mobility revolution

15.11.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Supporting structures of wind turbines contribute to wind farm blockage effect

13.12.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

Chinese team makes nanoscopy breakthrough

13.12.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

Tiny quantum sensors watch materials transform under pressure

13.12.2019 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>