Brainiacs today unveiled how instruments reeled aboard NASA's Martian curiosity to measure changes in the gravity of the red planet on its surface.
"Curiosity essentially has a new scientific instrument, six and a half years of its mission," said Kevin Lewis, lead author of a paper describing the paper, and an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University. "This allows us to get new information about the Mars basement in ways the rover was never designed to do."
A team of researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at John Hopkins University, the Carnegie Institution, University of Maryland and Arizona State University, all in the US, was responsible for calibrating Curiosity's gravimetric accelerometers. The nuclear powered rover has highly sensitive accelerometers, and the coffins mentioned above were able to reuse them to measure gravity on Mars.
As the vehicle climbed Mount Sharp, a five-kilometer-long formation in the center of the Gale Crater, the team measured the gravity difference they experienced along the way.
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This allowed the researchers to measure the density of the rock under the wheels of Curiosity. To his surprise, the rock was less dense than expected, according to repressed sensors.
Data previously taken from the CheMin instrument of Curiosity, which analyzes the mineralogy of rock samples, related the density of sedimentary rock to a density higher than that measured by gravity readings. This suggested that the sedimentary rock was highly porous.
This provides tips on how Mount Sharp formed in Gale Crater. Some scientists believed that it was once filled with sedimentary rocks that slowly eroded over time. However, being so porous, it now appears to have grown by the accumulation of material over time.
"This study represents the first cross-sectional gravity and measurement of rock density on Mars. The low density of rocks in the Gale crater suggests they have not gone through a deep burial," said Nicholas Schmerr, co-author of the article and assistant professor at the University of Maryland, on Thursday.
"It could mean that Mount Sharp was not excavated by erosion, but built by wind deposition and other processes. However, it appears that Mars had the ability to deposit significant amounts of low-density sedimentary rocks that record a complex history environmental ". ®