5 April 2013
44th Annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC), Houston, TX
I had the privilege of attending the 44th annual LPSC meeting which brings together experts in broad disciplines including petrology, geochemistry, astrobiology, geophysics, geology and astronomy to discuss their cutting edge research. Being new to planetary science, I learned a great deal from the oral presentations and posters presented this year.
As a member of the ExoMars Rover science team, I had a great interest in hearing the latest results from the Curiosity rover, which had three separate sessions dedicated to the experiments conducted in the first 100 sols (a .sol. is a day on Mars). Here we learned more about the morphology of the Golburn, Link and Hottah formations. Geologists feel that the rounded pebbles embedded in the sandstone compares directly to alluvial fans seen in the Atacama desert, a common analog site to Mars found here on Earth. Hottah.s big cracks in the cement-like structure imply that there was rapid fluid motion in these areas, lending credence to the idea of this being the ancient riverbed site.
We also learned more about the samples scooped at the Rocknest sand-shadow site, including the diversity of chemical compounds (including some chlorinated hydrocarbons!) that SAM uncovered. Work is still being conducted on the SAM testbed (a replica of the SAM instrument suite sent to Mars kept at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center) to determine whether the source of the hydrocarbons is terrestrial (i.e. we brought it with us) or is Martian-derived. However, given this and the presence of water found in the evolved gas analysis of the Rocknest samples, as well as the presence of various redox states of sulfur and nitrogen-bearing compounds, the Curiosity science team felt they had enough evidence to declare that the area could be deemed .habitable.. This is an incredible result! It means that the work should continue in this region to search for martian organic molecules.
And if you want to dig even deeper into the scientific data yourself, I found out that data from the Mars Science Laboratory will be released via The Analyst.s Notebook found online here: http://an.rsl.wustl.edu/msl