December 5, 2023

Scientists are on the verge of getting a new look at Mars, thanks to a multicolored 5.6 gigapixel map. The map covers 86 percent of the surface of the Red Planet, and reveals the distribution of dozens of major minerals. By looking at the distribution of minerals, scientists can better understand Mars’ watery past and can prioritize areas that need to be studied in greater depth.

The first parts of this map were released by NASA Planetary Data System. Over the next six months, more will be launched, completing one of the most detailed surveys of the surface of Mars ever conducted.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiteror MRO, has been mapping minerals on the red planet for 16 years, using the Compressed Mars Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer, or CRISM.

Using detectors that see visible and infrared wavelengths, the CRISM team has previously produced high-resolution mineral maps that provide a record of the formation of Mars’ crust and where and how it was altered by water. These maps were essential to help scientists understand how lakes, streams, and groundwater shaped the planet billions of years ago. NASA has also used CRISM maps to determine landing sites for other spacecraft, as is the case with Jezero Crater, where NASA’s Perseverance rover is located. Explore an ancient river delta.

The first piece of this new map includes 51,000 imageseach representing a 540-kilometre-long, 10-kilometre-wide “strip” that was captured as the MRO passed overhead.

The different false colors of the CRISM images show the presence of iron oxides, iron-bearing minerals, and important rock-forming minerals such as pyroxene, hydrophobic minerals, and carbonates on the planet’s surface.

To get its data, CRISM used two spectrometerOne of them is designed with three coolers to keep temperatures low so that it can more clearly detect the wavelengths of reflected solar infrared light. The last coolant was used in succession, and completed its life cycle in 2017, limiting the device’s ability to display visible wavelengths. So this will be the last CRISM map covering the entire wavelength range of the instrument. The tool is now in standby mode and may log data several more times in the coming months before it is taken out of service.

A final map will be released during the year, covering visible wavelengths and focusing only on iron-bearing minerals; This will have twice the spatial resolution of the latest map.

“The CRISM investigation was one of the crown jewels of NASA’s MRO mission,” he said. Richard Zurek, a mission project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “Analysis based on these final maps will provide new insights into the history of Mars for many years to come.”

Material provided by NASA/JPL/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

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