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Sol Journal – December 12th

December 12, 2016

The fascinating rocks

What do you imagine when hear the word “geology”? The search on the internet will show that “Geology is an earth science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which they change. Geology can also refer generally to the study of the solid features of any celestial body (such as the geology of the Moon or Mars).”

In our mission Mars 160 we have an outstanding geologist Jon Clarke, whose partner in crime is microbiologist Anushree Srivastava. Together they represent geo-microbiology, which is the study of living and fossilized organisms and their interaction with the rocks. It is a perfect team for future Mars explorations. In order to know the sampling area for soil, gypsum, hypoliths, and lichens, the crew microbiologist seeks an advice from Jon Clarke. He is the one who can tell where to go to find sandstone, gypsum, fossils and other interesting and relevant rocks. He is the one who tell jokes and interesting phrases about the geology, such as:

Lichens is what stops me from seeing the rock

A dust is windblown regolith

Regolith is everything between fresh rock and fresh air

If you observe what crew geologist does on the EVA, you would think that this is some kind of sightseeing. Yes, Jon walks around with 75cm stick and a hammer (provides scale), climbs the hills and takes the pictures. Those actions all together are called “geological scouting”.  Sometimes the scouting is sufficient for the purpose, because Jon is building on knowledge gained on previous trips to the station. Other times the scouting leads to more detailed investigations of sites, sampling, and laboratory analysis of the collected material.

Jon’s main geological focus in this part of the expedition was two-fold.  Firstly, he was following up previous studies into the relationship between the ancient rivers that deposited the rocks that make the geological succession at MDRS and the modern landscape.  Secondly, he was collecting samples of the different types of clays in the succession for our other crew geologist, Paul Knightly who is currently at the University of Arkansas but who will join us in the Arctic, to determine their composition.  Jon was also supporting Anushree by characterizing the substrates that had been colonized by hypoliths and lichens and providing the broader geological context.

The Mars Desert Research Station environment allow us to explore and study geological and landscape features at a scale similar to those found on Mars. Geology is the key to understand the history of Mars, provides the context for the search for life, and is essential for the search for martian resources and determining safe places to build mars stations. Mission Mars 160 also provides a visually, topographically, and geologically realistic environment to test instruments, procedures and conduct operations to assist future mission.