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July 21, 2009 — A team of researchers from
the CSIC-INTA Astrobiology Centre in Madrid has confirmed that the type
of mineralogical composition on the surface of Mars influences the
measuring of its temperature. The study is published this week in the Journal of Environmental Monitoring
and will be used to interpret the data from the soil temperature sensor
of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) vehicle, whose launch is
envisaged for 2011.
María Paz Martín is a researcher at the Astrobiology Centre (the
CAB, a CSIC-INTA mixed organisation) and the main author of a study
which has just been published by the Journal of Environmental Monitoring.
"We have confirmed, by means of infrared spectroscopy tests, that the
chemical-mineralogical associations on the surface of Mars influence
the measuring of the temperature of the Martian soil", she explained to
SINC. The infrared spectrometers register how the different mixtures of
minerals reflect this type of radiation and this information is used to
calculate the environmental temperature.
The work lies within the framework of a project related to the soil
temperature sensor of the REMS weather station (Rover Environmental
Monitoring Station). This instrument, whose design is coordinated by
the CAB, forms part of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) vehicle and
mission, which NASA intended to launch this year but has now put off
"This research shows that, in order to carry out the thermal
measurements on the surface of Mars, we must bear in mind certain
specific mineralogical mixtures", Martín indicated. The results confirm
that there exist significant increases and falls of up to 100% in the
percentages of the reflectance values (the capacity of reflection of a
surface) in mixtures such as those of basalt with hematite in
comparison with those of basalt with magnetite.
To carry out the study, the scientists have selected and prepared
samples of terrestrial minerals which are known to exist on Mars, such
as oxides, oxi-hydroxides, sulphates, chlorides, opal and others which
come from clay. These compounds were obtained from reference materials
from the United States Geological Survey, as well as from different
areas of the Earth similar to those of the red planet, like El Jaroso
(Almería), the Tinto River (Huelva) and Atacama Desert (Chile).
The researchers pulverized the material until they achieved fewer
than 45 microns, the average size of the dust of the Martian soil. They
then mixed the minerals in different proportions with basalt, the most
important volcanic rock on Mars, and measured how the infrared
reflectance varied at the same wavelength levels as those at which the
REMS temperature sensor will operate.
"The experiments confirm that any chemical-mineralogical analytical
development on Mars requires the prior satisfactory quality of the
methodological tests and routines on Earth", Martin stressed.
In search of signs of water and life on Mars
Jesús Martínez Frías is the co-author of the study and an
astrogeologist at the CAB. "The results of this work will also have
implications on the detection and exploration of the environments of
Mars in which there was liquid water, as well as habitability studies
and searches for life", he remarked. The infrared reflectance spectra
experimentally obtained may serve as indicators to help in the task.
Martínez Frías indicated that this multidisciplinary research, in
which geologists, chemists and engineers have collaborated, "opens up a
new line of work which will grow with the incorporation of new minerals
such as carbonates and analytical routines which bring the
spectroscopic analyses closer to the most reliable Martian conditions".
This study may also be applied to the analysis of the data gathered
by the instruments of other missions to Mars and other planets and to
the tests in extreme environments on Earth.
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