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Science Benefits From Diverse Landing Area Of NASA Mars Rover

WASHINGTON, Sept. 26, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- NASA's Curiosity rover is revealing a great deal about Mars, from long-ago processes in its interior to the current interaction between the Martian surface and atmosphere.

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Examination of loose rocks, sand and dust has provided new understanding of the local and global processes on Mars. Analysis of observations and measurements by the rover's science instruments during the first four months after the August 2012 landing are detailed in five reports in this week's edition of the journal Science.

A key finding is water molecules are bound to fine-grained soil particles, accounting for about 2 percent of the particles' weight at Gale Crater where Curiosity landed. This result has global implications, because these materials are likely distributed around the Red Planet.

Curiosity also has completed the first comprehensive mineralogical analysis on another planet using a standard laboratory method for identifying minerals on Earth. The findings about both crystalline and non-crystalline components in soil provide clues to the planet's volcanic history.

Information about the evolution of the Martian crust and deeper regions within the planet comes from Curiosity's mineralogical analysis of a football-size igneous rock called "Jake M." Igneous rocks form by cooling molten material that originated well beneath the crust.  The chemical compositions of the rocks can be used to infer the thermal, pressure and chemical conditions under which they crystallized.

"No other Martian rock is so similar to terrestrial igneous rocks," said Edward Stolper of the California Institute of Technology, lead author of a report about this analysis. "This is surprising because previously studied igneous rocks from Mars differ substantially from terrestrial rocks and from Jake M."

The other four reports include analysis of the composition and formation process of a windblown drift of sand and dust, by David Blake of NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., and co-authors.

Curiosity examined this drift, called Rocknest, with five instruments, preforming an onboard laboratory analysis of samples scooped up from the Martian surface. The drift has a complex history and includes sand particles with local origins, as well as finer particles that sample windblown Martian dust distributed regionally or even globally.

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