ChemCam Depth Profiles at Gale Crater to Assess Coating and Alteration Distribution and Chemistry

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Diana L Blaney1, Samuel M Clegg2, Roger C Wiens2, Sylvestre Maurice3, Nina Lanza2 and Nathan Bridges4, (1)NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Ca, United States, (2)Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM, United States, (3)IRAP, Toulouse, France, (4)Applied Physics Laboratory Johns Hopkins, Laurel, MD, United States
Coating and rock alteration formation on Mars is constrained by both the availability of water and rock composition. Detection of these materials depends on the both formation rate and the rate of abrasion that these alteration products and coatings experience. ChemCam on the Curiosity rover can investigate coating/alteration formation and preservation by looking at chemical composition as a function of depth into the rock.

ChemCam LIBS works by firing a laser focused to a 350 - 550 mm diameter spot that produces plasma from the rock. Spectra of elemental emission lines are recorded from 240-850 nm and used to determine the elemental composition of the rock. A chemical composition is generated from each individual spectrum. Each laser firing penetrates deeper into the rock allowing for a composition as a function of depth to be determined. By comparing geochemical trends from the beginning and end of the observations evidence for coatings and alteration can be assessed by geologic setting and rock type.

Previous ChemCam work has identified Li variations (Ollila et al 2014) and MnO coatings (Lanza et al 2014) on a few rocks with high abundances of these elements. However this work is the first systematic assessment of alteration and coatings in the entire data set.

From landing until Sol 583 there were 2,610 good quality ChemCam rock and outcrop observations. These measurements were assessed for internal elemental composition variability by the calculation of heterogeneity index. Only 7% (178) had positive internal heterogeneity. However, internal heterogeneity can be due to other factors besides coatings and alteration. Thick soil coverage and differential sampling of materials in coarse-grained rocks also produce positive heterogeneity indexes. The actual number of potential coatings at Gale is significantly lower. For most of Gale, current geochemical alteration rates are slower the rate of abrasion. This result is consistent with limited availability of water in the current epoch. Detailed analysis rocks with of potential alteration signatures and coatings will be undertaken to determine if there are materials that have been protected from abrasion. Limits on the rates of formation of coatings/alteration in the current epoch will be estimated and implications for water availability and habitability discussed.