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A rock coatings signature in laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy data: Comparing laboratory data with ChemCam results from Gale crater, Mars

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Surface compositional features on rocks such as coatings and weathering rinds provide important information about past aqueous environments and water-rock interactions. The search for these features represents an important aspect of the Curiosity rover mission. With its unique ability to do fine-scale chemical depth profiling, the ChemCam laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy instrument (LIBS) onboard Curiosity can be used to both identify and analyze rock surface alteration features. In this talk I will describe laboratory experiments with the ChemCam engineering model on a terrestrial manganese-rich rock varnish coating on a basalt rock to determine the LIBS signature of a natural rock coating. Results show that there is a systematic decrease in peak heights for elements such as Mn that are abundant in the coating but not the rock. There is significant spatial variation in the relative abundance of coating elements detected by LIBS depending on where on the rock surface sampled; this is due to the variability in thickness and spatial discontinuities in the coating. Similar trends have been identified in some martian rock targets in ChemCam data, suggesting that these rocks may have coatings or weathering rinds on their surfaces.

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