Curiosity's Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin) identified minerals in the first sample of Martian soil ingested recently by the rover, the space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., reported Tuesday.
"Much of Mars is covered with dust, and we had an incomplete understanding of its mineralogy," said David Bish, CheMin co-investigator at Indiana University. "We now know it is mineralogically similar to basaltic material, with significant amounts of feldspar, pyroxene and olivine, which was not unexpected. Roughly half the soil is non-crystalline material, such as volcanic glass or products from weathering of the glass. "
The identification of minerals in rocks and soil is crucial for the Curiosity's goal of assessing past environmental conditions, because each mineral records the conditions under which it formed.
"We had many previous inferences and discussions about the mineralogy of Martian soil," David Blake of NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., the principal investigator for CheMin, said.
"Our team is elated with these first results from our instrument," he said. "They heighten our anticipation for future CheMin analyses in the months and miles ahead for Curiosity."