What the Planetary Science Team has been up to in February

Close up of Oxia Planum, the rover landing site. | Image from ESA

Close up of Oxia Planum, the rover landing site. | Image: ESA

The process of studying the landing site for the Rosalind Franklin rover, Oxia Planum, has continued apace throughout February.

Over at the University of Leicester, Adam and John have been continuing with two strands of research. The current focus is improving the current mapping of the clay at the landing site via use of the Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS), a camera on the Trace Gas Orbiter spacecraft orbiting above Mars right now.

This is crucial as clay forms in the presence of water and is an excellent material to preserve bio-signatures (evidence of past life including micro-fossils as well as the remains of an organism’s diet) in; if life ever existed at Oxia Planum, its remains would likely have been preserved within this clay unit.

The other research strand is a comparison of fractured terrain between Oxia Planum and Gale Crater. We’re doing this in order to use the well characterised rocks and materials present in Gale Crater (the site of the Curiosity rover’s operations) to better predict the properties of the materials we will see at Oxia Planum. This is useful ahead of the rover’s arrival for choosing the most interesting sites to drive towards.

At the Open University, Peter has been carrying out investigations into other aspects of the landing site and the surrounding region. Making use of imagery from both the Context (CTX) camera and High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), he has been identifying the relations between several ancient river features present at the site, including channels and deltas.

This is vital for understanding the history of water at the site, such as where each feature originated from and their age in relation to each other, which could inform us as to what environments would have been present at Oxia Planum and how long they may have existed for.

He has also been studying the ancient catchment area of the Oxia Planum site. This is the area around the site where, if water was present, it would flow towards and through Oxia Planum.

As part of this he has been identifying ancient lakes within this catchment area which would have fed water to the site. Both of these are useful for identifying areas where sediment could have originated from and, potentially, areas which would be of interest for follow up missions if evidence of life was identified at Oxia.

Throughout March and going into next month all three of us are going to be taking part in a concentrated mapping effort to identify both hazards to the movement of the rover (for example, sand dunes and other areas where it could become stuck), as well as areas we would like to visit with the rover due to their potential to meet the science objectives of the mission.

We’re looking forward to updating you on how this has all progressed next month!

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Posted on March 12, 2020 by in News. Leave a comment

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