Rum rocks to play a key role in Mars space mission

28 July 2023

Historical rocks from the Isle of Rum are enjoying an essential function in a global area mission to find extra about Mars.

A bunch of scientists have this week been amassing samples of rock from the NatureScot Nationwide Nature Reserve (NNR) as a part of the NASA and European Area Company (ESA)’s Mars Pattern Return Marketing campaign.

The marketing campaign is assembling an outlined set of rock samples from world wide which might be akin to rock samples from the Pink Planet which might be scheduled to be dropped at Earth in 2033.

On account of its distinctive geology, Rum off the west coast of Scotland has been chosen as the one UK web site for sampling, as a few of its igneous rocks have a really comparable mineral and chemical content material to these which have been collected by NASA’s Perseverance Rover throughout its exploration of an historic crater on Mars.

An intensive examine of the rocks from Rum and different high-priority pattern websites will crucially assist scientists perceive what strategies of testing and evaluation will work finest in readiness for when the Martian rocks are dropped at Earth.

As the primary samples from one other world, the Mars rocks are thought to current the very best alternative to disclose clues concerning the early evolution of the planet, together with the potential for previous life.

The Rum sampling is being led by Dr Lydia Hallis, a geologist and planetary scientist from the College of Geographical and Earth Sciences on the College of Glasgow, and a member of the marketing campaign’s Science Group. The sector crew additionally included Dr Luke Daly from the College of Glasgow, Professor Helen Williams and Dr Simon Matthews from the College of Cambridge, Professor John Bridges from the College of Leicester, and Dr Mariek Schmidt from Brock College in Canada.

Dr Hallis stated: “These Rum rocks are a wonderful comparability to a particular geologic unit on Mars – the igneous Séítah Formation inside the Jezero crater – which is characterised by the mineral olivine, and which the NASA Perseverance Rover explored and sampled. Not solely is the mineralogy and chemistry comparable, however the two rocks seem to have an analogous quantity of weathering.

“This appears unusual once we assume how moist and heat Rum is in comparison with current day Mars, however billions of years in the past when the Séítah Formation crystallised on Mars the distinction in surroundings wouldn’t have been so pronounced. At the moment Mars was a lot wetter and hotter, with a thicker environment that will even have produced rain (although not as a lot as we get in Scotland!). Over time the Martian environment thinned leaving the floor a lot dryer and colder, basically halting any additional weathering inside Séítah and preserving the rocks at Jezero Crater for us to research right this moment.

“The rocks on Rum are youthful geologically than these which have been collected on Mars by Perseverance, however their publicity to the Scottish parts has produced roughly the identical quantity of weathering as was produced within the Séítah Formation throughout Mars’ early moist and heat local weather. Due to all these similarities, evaluation of the Rum rocks ought to give us a great head begin and assist the samples from the Pink Planet obtain their full potential when they’re returned to Earth.”

Professor John Bridges, from Area Park Leicester, stated: “The Rum rocks we collected will endure the identical sorts of analyses and in the identical stringent circumstances of laboratory cleanliness and safety because the Perseverance rover drill cores in order that the science group is prepared for the returned Jezero samples.”

Dr Mariek Schmidt, from Brock College in Canada, added: “It is extremely thrilling to see rocks like these we encountered on Mars within the subject on Earth. We had been in a position to strike it with a hammer, really feel its heft, and scan a damaged floor with a hand lens.” 

Lesley Watt, NatureScot’s Rum NNR reserve supervisor, stated: “With its extinct volcanoes and dramatic mountains, Rum has all the time been among the finest locations to find Scotland’s world-class geology, however we didn’t fairly realise that the rocks right here had been of interplanetary significance as effectively.

“It has been fascinating to study extra concerning the NASA/ESA mission, and actually thrilling for the island to play a small half on this really historic endeavour to seek out out extra about Mars. We hope it’ll add one more factor of curiosity for guests to this particular place.”

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