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PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has completed initial experiments showing the mineralogy of Martian soil is similar to weathered basaltic soils of volcanic origin in Hawaii.

This is the first ever "X-ray diffraction analysis on Mars". The sample, scooped from windblown microdunes at a site named Rocknest, consists of dust from all over the planet plus larger, sandy grains originating more locally. By its nature, this sample offers a more recent snapshot of processes on Mars, long after the surface water dried up.

"Much of Mars is covered with dust, and we had an incomplete understanding of its mineralogy," said David Bish, CheMin co-investigator with Indiana University in Bloomington. "We now know it is mineralogically similar to basaltic material, with significant amounts of feldspar, pyroxene and olivine, which was not unexpected. Roughly half the soil is non-crystalline material, such as volcanic glass or products from weathering of the glass. "

Bish said, "So far, the materials Curiosity has analyzed are consistent with our initial ideas of the deposits in Gale Crater recording a transition through time from a wet to dry environment. The ancient rocks, such as the conglomerates, suggest flowing water, while the minerals in the younger soil are consistent with limited interaction with water."

Wander with me out into the tall grass for some terrific images from NASA and a video update on how the science team is scouting its choices for research by the internal instruments.

According to NASA:
First X-ray View of Martian Soil

This graphic shows results of the first analysis of Martian soil by the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) experiment on NASA's Curiosity rover. The image reveals the presence of crystalline feldspar, pyroxenes and olivine mixed with some amorphous (non-crystalline) material. The soil sample, taken from a wind-blown deposit within Gale Crater, where the rover landed, is similar to volcanic soils in Hawaii.

Curiosity scooped the soil on Oct. 15, 2012, the 69th sol, or Martian day, of operations. It was delivered to CheMin for X-ray diffraction analysis on October 17, 2012, the 71st sol. By directing an X-ray beam at a sample and recording how X-rays are scattered by the sample at an atomic level, the instrument can definitively identify and quantify minerals on Mars for the first time. Each mineral has a unique pattern of rings, or "fingerprint," revealing its presence.

The colors in the graphic represent the intensity of the X-rays, with red being the most intense.

Speaking of red:

Wind-Blown Martian Sand

This pair of images from the Mast Camera on NASA's Curiosity rover shows the upper portion of a wind-blown deposit dubbed "Rocknest." The rover team recently commanded Curiosity to take a scoop of soil from a region located out of frame, below this view. The soil was then analyzed with the Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument, or CheMin.

The colors in the image at left are unmodified, showing the scene as it would appear on Mars, which has a dusty red-colored atmosphere. The image at right has been white-balanced to show what the same area would look like under the lighting conditions on Earth.

The rounded rock located at the upper center portion of the images is about 8 inches (0.2 meters) across

Love at first bite:
Curiosity Digs In

This pair of images shows a "bite mark" where NASA's Curiosity rover scooped up some Martian soil (left), and the scoop carrying soil. The first scoop sample was taken from the "Rocknest" patch of dust and sand on Oct. 7, 2012, the 61st sol, or Martian day, of operations. A third scoop sample was collected on Oct. 15, or Sol 69, and deposited into the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument on Oct. 17, or Sol 71.

Also, here is an informative recent NASA video about the extensive use being made of the ChemCam instrument to scout targets for the other instruments.

For all of my Mars diaries and all things Mars on Daily Kos go to Kossacks on Mars.

Originally posted to Kossacks on Mars on Tue Oct 30, 2012 at 03:52 PM PDT.

Also republished by Astro Kos and SciTech.

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