Major-Element Compositional Diversity Observed by ChemCam Along the MSL Traverse: The First Three Years
Abstract:ChemCam on Curiosity has used LIBS to obtain elemental compositions of >6000 target points at distances to 7.4 m from the rover. Observations include igneous clasts, sediments, diagenetic features, and other details often not accessible by the rover arm. A major re-calibration was recently completed using >350 standards. This significantly improved the accuracies of mineral end-members including plag-feldspars, hi-Si compositions, oxide grains, Mg-rich end-members (presumably Mg saponites; not yet confirmed by CheMin), and Mg and Ca sulfates. Here we draw conclusions from the overall compositional distributions observed in Gale crater from landing until the present using the new calibration.
Observations from Bradbury Rise (sols 0-53, 326-520) show a scattering of compositions toward mineral end-members from igneous clasts and pebbles transported from the crater rim. In contrast, Sheepbed mudstones (first drill location; sols 126-300) form a tight cluster close to average Mars composition. The nearby Shaler fluvial sandstone outcrop (sols 306-325)--the first outcrop of potential deltaic foreset beds--shows K enrichment. This enrichment reaches a peak of 6 wt % K2O (sol 625) in the Mt. Remarkable member of the Kimberley formation, Kimberley being a drill location flanked by foreset beds 7 km SW of Shaler. The Pahrump outcrop (sols 753-919)—first observed material of the Murray formation at Mt. Sharp’s base—shows lower Mg, higher Si, and much higher Al, consistent with stronger alteration. Further along the traverse ChemCam discovered an outcrop of light-toned Murray formation rock (sols 992 on) of nearly pure SiO2+TiO2. Overall, the ChemCam database points to a very strong diversity of inputs and alteration processes within a relatively short distance within Gale.
Igneous compositions: while Jake Matijevic, a float analyzed early by APXS, appeared nepheline normative, no clear nepheline has been found by ChemCam. Additionally, despite the significant number of coarse-grained feldspar-rich rocks observed by ChemCam, only a small number of points show excess silica, and quartz has not been clearly observed, leading to the suggestion that the leucocratic igneous clasts are dioritic/trachybasaltic rather than granitic.