Mars Mineral Match

By: Amy Lyons

Mars Mineral Match

11.14.2014 – NASA’s Curiosity rover drilled into a Martian mountain and has confirmed a mineral that was mapped out from a previous orbit. Curiosity amassed the powder by drilling into a rock outcrop at the base of Mount Sharp, located at Confidence Hill within the Pahrump Hills target outcrop, this past September. The powder sample collected by Curiosity was then sent to the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument within the rover. This sample consisted of more hematite, an iron-oxide mineral that indicates clues about ancient environmental conditions from when it was first formed, than any other rock or soil sample that had been previously analyzed by the CheMin during the duration of its two year mission.

Previously, in 2010, before Curiosity’s journey to Mars, a mineral-mapping instrument on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter contributed evidence of hematite in the interested area of the Pahrump Hills outcrop, and the landing site is located inside the Gale Crater.

Curiosity has spent its first year mainly exploring outcrops in the lower area of the Gale Crater, called Yellowknife Bay, close to where it had originally landed. There, Curiosity found an ancient lakebed, for it discovered rocks that contained evidence of wet environmental conditions billions of years ago, which provide ingredients and an energy source favorable for microbial life, considering that Mars had any microbes. The rocks discovered there also contained iron-oxide minerals, but they were mostly magnetite as opposed to hematite.

Curiosity’s second year was spent driving from Yellowknife Bay to the base of Mount Sharp, where the hematite sample was found, providing information about the environmental conditions, which was different from the conditions recorded in the Yellowknife Bay rocks. There, at the base of Mount Sharp, the rock material had interacted with water and the atmosphere, and became oxidized.


Opportunity, a different NASA Mars rover, had encountered hematite-rich spherules on a different section of Mars in 2004, and this discovery was important because it provided evidence of a water-soaked history that produced those mineral concretions.

Curiosity currently plans to explore more around the Pahrump Hills before it continues its journey up Mount Sharp.

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