May’s Monthly Meeting – Mars Mineralogy and Geology

“Exploring Mars Mineralogy and Geology Using In Situ X-Ray Diffraction”

Dr. Roberta Flemming
Associate Professor
Earth Sciences and Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration
University of Western Ontario
To understand the evolution of Mars, we need to study its minerals. There is a mineralogical record of Mars geological processes, impact history, climate (e.g., the history of water on Mars) and habitability. Several instruments have been flown on space missions to examine the mineralogy of Mars, including orbiters, landers, and rovers. Several rover-based instruments measure chemical information from the rocks (such as the APXS on MER and Curiosity rovers), but chemical composition alone does not provide a complete picture of the history of the rocks. X-Ray Diffraction (XRD) is the primary technique to determine the mineralogy of rocks and other natural materials. XRD is currently being used on Mars with the CheMin instrument on NASA’s Curiosity rover, however, the CheMin technique crushes the rock to a powder, which destroys the original information about the relationship between the minerals in the rock. A team from Western, Brock, and Guelph universities, along with Canadian companies PROTO and MDA are developing a concept for a miniaturized in situ XRD (ISXRD) which will be able to analyse minerals directly on the martian surface. As a part of this concept study we are assembling a set of Martian analogue rocks, minerals common on the martian surface, and martian meteorites. We will be comparing XRD results from Flemming’s current micro-XRD lab at Western with results obtained using various rover-candidate miniaturized X-ray components and geometries tested by PROTO Manufacturing in Windsor. This will lay the foundation for an in situ X-ray diffraction instrument to be used in future Mars exploration – or anywhere else a remotely-operated robotic rover might be deployed, including remote regions of Earth for environmental science or resource prospecting.
Dr. Roberta Flemming (Associate Professor, Western Earth Sciences and Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration) is a mineralogist by training. She has been Director of the Powder and Micro X-ray Diffraction Facility at Western since 2002. She is leading a multidisciplinary team of researchers, with funding from the Canadian Space Agency, to develop a “Miniaturized In-situ X-Ray Diffractometer for Mineralogical Characterization of Planetary Surfaces (ISXRD)” which will focus on Mars.
Thursday, May 2, 2019 at 8:00 PM
The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 551
79 Hamilton Street North, 2nd floor
Waterdown, Ontario  L0R 2H0

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