"It feels so unnatural to our terrestrial experience".
"What we were able to do is measure the bulk density of the material in Gale Crater", says Travis Gabriel, a graduate student in ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration. The results? It turns out the density of those rock layers is much lower than expected.
NASA's Mars rover may have just solved the mystery behind a massive Martian mountain whose base it is now exploring.More news: Kelsy Karter reveals her Harry Styles face tattoo is fake
Johns Hopkins University's Dr. Kevin Lewis and co-authors chose to try calibrating accelerometers on NASA's Curiosity rover to measure surface gravity as the rover climbed Mount Sharp. And Curiosity is equipped with accelerometers - like the ones commonly used in iPhones and other electronics - which are used both to drive and get the vehicle's orientation.
Typically, to measure gravity on Mars and other planets, researchers rely on orbiting satellites like the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Using the fact that gravitational fields weaken as altitude and distance from a planet's core increase, Lewis and team mapped out the gravitational field strength at more than 700 points from where Curiosity landed on the crater's floor up to where it had traveled into Mount Sharp's foothills.
"This study is a little bit of the first of its kind", said study author Kevin Lewis of Johns Hopkins University. Thus, the layers of rock that make up the mountain aren't as dense as was once expected and the theory that Gale Crater was once filled with sediment is unlikely.
Back in the Apollo mission days to the moon in 1972, the moon rover that the astronauts drove around had instruments on board to measure the gravity of the surface.More news: Ben Affleck quits as Batman
"This study represents the first gravity traverse and measurement of rock density on Mars". The calculations were then compared to models of Mars' gravity fields to ensure accuracy.
"Working from the rocks' mineral abundances as determined by the chemistry and mineralogy instrument, we estimated a grain density of 2810 kilogrammes per cubic metre", he said in a statement. Aside from new data about Mount Sharp, the spacecraft also found that the Gale crater previously had a stream and lake for long stretches, perhaps hundreds of millions of years at a time.
The formation of the crater and the nearby mountain have been the subject of heated debate.
If the crater had been filled to the brim, all that material should have pressed down, or compacted, the many layers of fine-grained sediment beneath it. As reported in Science today, the clever repurposing of one of its sensors has helped unearth new clues as to how the planet's Gale crater and Mount Sharp formed.More news: Now Puma has self-lacing sneakers, too
"Curiosity, essentially, has a new science instrument six and a half years into its mission", Dr. Lewis said. "I'm thrilled that creative scientists and engineers are still finding innovative ways to make new scientific discoveries with the rover", he added. Pictured: In this handout provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS A sweeping panorama combining 33 telephoto images into one Martian vista presents details of several types of terrain visible on Mount Sharp from a location along the route of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover. Its landscape is like Earth's, but sculpted more by wind and blowing sand than by water. This mosaic is made from Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) images used to pick out distinct surface mineralogies.