Journalist Report – January 08th

Sol 10 – 01/08/2018

Name the space movie (or show) given the following quote. Answer at the end of the Report:

Science fiction. You’re right, it’s crazy. In fact, it’s even worse than that, it’s nuts. You wanna hear something really nutty? I heard of a couple guys who wanna build something called an airplane, you know you get people to go in, and fly around like birds, it’s ridiculous, right? And what about breaking the sound barrier, or rockets to the moon? Atomic energy, or a mission to Mars? Science fiction, right? Look, all I’m asking is for you to just have the tiniest bit of vision. You know, to just sit back for one minute and look at the big picture. To take a chance on something that just might end up being the most profoundly impactful moment for humanity, for the history… of history.

Have you ever tried celery in eggs? Next time you make scrambled eggs, add in some fried up sausage and celery. It adds a lovely crunch I never would have thought to try before becoming a Martian! This breakfast was especially important since the Commander, Geologist, and I were heading out to our most ambitious Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) to date, an area called “Skyline Rim” which is nearly 7 miles driving from the habitat. Unfortunately, our wonderful rovers cannot go that distance so we geared up and headed out on the ATVs (arguably way more fun to drive). With most, if not all, EVAs, we have been sent off on a quest to find geological samples, but why are these samples so important? What is so great about collecting a bunch of rocks?

I sat down with Ellen Czaplinski, our Crew Geologist and a PhD student in Space and Planetary Science at the University of Arkansas, to get the scoop on why we should all have a greater appreciation for the boulders that make up our home planet and planets beyond. As Crew Geologist, Ellen came into the mission with the research objective of collecting geological samples of sand or rocks near existing or previous areas with flowing water. The samples are valuable because the clays near MDRS are similar to those found on Mars. They will be grouped based on their location in the field and analyzed through infrared spectral analysis. Infrared spectral analysis involves taking a science fiction looking, construction yellow, light gun about the size of the average human forearm and shining its light onto the rock samples. The light projected from the gun bounces off the rock and back towards the gun which measures the light that has been bounced back and tells the user what minerals the rock is made from. After measuring and collecting the samples in the field, they are sent to a lab for further analysis. This work will be important for future Mars missions, and future planetary missions as a whole, since it allows us to practice sample collection in the field in a relatively easier environment than Mars. Additionally, it provides a platform to identify differences in analyzing samples in the field versus studying them in the lab. These differences will help us better analyze sample returns from missions such as the Mars2020 rover, OSIRIS-REx, and Hayabusa2 who all plan to send geological samples back to Earth from Mars, Asteroid Bennu, and Asteroid Ryugu, respectively.

On top of the valuable lessons we will learn from Ellen’s research, we’ve also made surprising finds outside of the expected samples! We’ve found banded iron formations, salt formations such as gypsum, and evaporites. The banded iron formations are some of Earth’s oldest known rock formations. They were abundant in the time of “The Great Oxygenation”, an event nearly 2.4 million years ago when the first organisms began photosynthesizing and creating the world we know today. The rock is approximately the size of a closed fist and is a deep black color with red, iron stripes running through its center. Salt formations and evaporites are the minerals left when water evaporates. For example, if you collected sea water and waited for the water to evaporate, the salty residue that is left would be considered an evaporite. The gypsum in the field appears on the ground like ice shards shattered in the clay. These samples not only add to the diversity of the study but are simply very neat finds while walking across the Martian plains.

Rocks are not just a story of their current environment, but a history book of evolving environments that could date back to the beginning of our home planet. Rocks could start as one mineral, millions of years ago, and evolve through heat and temperature to be redeposited, continuing to record the environment’s history until our Crew Geologist discovers it and translates its pages. Additionally, not all rocks are created equal, and together, they tell the evolution of our planet. Great work Ellen! You’re a ROCKstar!

Movie (or Show) Answer: Contact