John Bridges: Mars Science Laboratory Blog
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Pahrump Hills, drillhole
We are drilling at Pahrump (named after an old Shoshone, native American settlement in what is now Nevada). This is part of the new phase of our mission where we plan to spend a higher proportion of our time making analyses relative to driving.
Meanwhile the Navcams have captured this spectacular view of the Pahrump Hills with the main part of Mt. Sharp rising behind, and dark dunes encroaching on the view from the west.
This striking image shows the flat surface of the local mudstone in the Pahrump area. In it you can see raised ridges and veins, a bit like we saw back in Yellowknife Bay. This may be related to periodic dessication, as the lake deposits dried up at times in their evolution.
You can see dunes encroaching over the ancient mudstone surface. Their dark colour is a result of their likely basaltic composition. Its is only quite recently that we have realised that dunes are active on present day Mars. Up until HiRISE imagery in from 2006, it was thought they were all static and 'fossilised'. But then a lot has changed about our understanding of Mars in the last 10 years, and largely as a result of MSL!
We have just had MSL and ChemCam team meetings in Pasadena, a focus of the the discussions has been medium term planning about the observations we will make as we gradually climb Mt. Sharp. We can expect more CheMin XRD analyses for one things and regular ChemCam observations of course. The mineralogy and fluid history will be one of the most important aspects of this study.
We have now reached the first foothills in the Mt. Sharp part of the mission. This area is called the Pahrump Hills. The Navcam image shows the sort of terrain we will be driving over in the next part of the mission as we spend more time analysing and drilling the sedimentary rock outcrops compared to our current driving routine.