A NASA press release indicates that NASA’s Spirit, the first of two Mars Exploration Rovers on the surface within Mars’ Gusev crater, has identified carbonate minerals “in the rover’s first survey of the site with its infrared sensing instrument, called the miniature thermal emission spectrometer or Mini-TES. Carbonates form in the presence of water, but it’s too early to tell whether the amounts detected come from interaction with water vapor in Mars’ atmosphere or are evidence of a watery local environment in the past, scientists emphasized.”
“We came looking for carbonates. We have them. We’re going to chase them,” said Dr. Phil Christensen of Arizona State University, Tempe, leader of the Mini-TES team. Previous infrared readings from Mars orbit have revealed a low concentration of carbonates distributed globally. Christensen has interpreted that as the result of dust interaction with atmospheric water. First indications are that the carbonate concentration near Spirit may be higher than the Mars global average.
After the rover drives off its lander platform, infrared measurements it takes as it explores the area may allow scientists to judge whether the water indicated by the nearby carbonates was in the air or in a suspected ancient lake.
These spectra consist of data from the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit’s mini-thermal emission spectrometer, shows the light, or spectral, signatures of carbonates – organic molecules common to Earth that form only in water. The detection of trace amounts of carbonates on Mars may be due to an interaction between the water vapor in the atmosphere and minerals on the surface.
Image credit: NASA/JPL/Arizona State University
WebElements January 9th, 2004