Data Mining Technique Gives Accurate Image of Martian Geology

A panorama of Gale Crater on Mars was taken from Vera Rubin ridge.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

A team of scientists led by Carnegie's Shaunna Morrison and together with Bob Hazen have disclosed the mineralogy of Mars at a new scale, which is able to facilitate them perceive the planet's geological history and habitability. Their findings are revealed in 2 American mineralogist papers.

Minerals form from novel mixtures of elements. These combinations will be expedited by geological activity, including volcanoes and water-rock interactions. Understanding the geology of another planet, like Mars, permits scientists to get back and understand the forces that formed their formation in this location.

An instrument on NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover known as the Chemistry and Mineralogy Instrument, or CheMin, is that the 1st tool of its kind ever to work on another planet. however, there are limitations to what quantity it can tell scientists about the Red Planet's minerals -- however they formed and what they can illuminate about Martian history.

But Morrison found the way to pull together even a lot of data from the CheMin data, information that paints an in-depth image of the minerals the rover encountered on Mars.

CheMin is in a position to distinguish what varieties of minerals exist on Mars and in what proportions they're found. however, till this latest work from Morrison, scientists did not have the calibration capabilities to measure the precise composition or crystal chemistry of these minerals from CheMin information alone. as an example, CheMin told Earth-bound scientists that certain varieties of feldspar exist on Mars, however, it didn't give the amount of detail that may give mineralogists very important clues regarding the conditions under the feldspars formed.

Crystals, by definition, have a long-range repetitive structure. the tiniest unit of the geometry of this crystal lattice is termed the unit cell, comprised of continuance atomic units. Morrison realized that as a result of the unit cell dimensions for minerals found within the thirteen samples CheMin took of the soils, sandstones, and formations of Mar's Gale Crater are known, she might use them as a key to unlock more information about the minerals sampled by CheMin.

"I scoured the literature, gathering and analyzing thousands of measurements of each mineral compositions and unit cell dimensions and then determined a mathematical association between them," Morrison explained. "Once this relationship was established, it may be used to glean much more detail regarding the minerals in the Martian samples taken by CheMin."

For example, CheMin was able to measure that Mars' Gale Crater contains the minerals feldspar and olivine. using Morrison's connection between unit cells and compositions, the team was able to verify how the composition of feldspar varies between the various sampling locations, which may provide data regarding its igneous origins. additionally, the percentag of magnesium found in olivine samples vary from fifty-two to seventy-two per cent, that compared with Martian meteorites could provide data about the aqueous alteration of the material.

"Thanks to Shaunna's creative approach, we've improved CheMin's resolution by an order of magnitude," Hazen explained. "The result's the most vivid picture yet of the mineralogy of another planet."

This team was supported by the JPL engineering and Mars science laboratory operations team. The research was supported by National Aeronautics and Space Administration, MSL Investigations, and the NSF.
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