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The USGS presents: The Latest "Dirt" On Mars
Released: 10/16/1997

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Pat Jorgenson 1-click interview
Phone: 650-329-4000 | FAX: 650-329-4013

What the Mars rover "said" when she spun her wheels; what Iceland has in common with the Red Planet; and what "bugs" in rocks can tell us about ancient Mars are the topics of three presentations by U.S. Geological Survey scientists at next week’s annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. This year’s meeting will be held October 19-23, at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City.

A lot was learned about the "dirt," or surface minerals of Mars by the way the Sojourner rover spun her wheels when she got stuck in the Martian sand, according to USGS emeritus, Henry J. Moore, who is a member of the NASA/JPL team that has been receiving and interpreting data and images from the Pathfinder/Sojourner since it landed on Mars on July 4, 1997. On Tuesday, Oct. 21, at 4 p.m., Moore will describe how, by measuring the torque of Sojourner’s wheels, the angle of friction, and observing the Martian soil, he determined that some of the soils were fine-grained clayey silts, much like the rover would have encountered in many dry washes in the western U.S.

Moore also will describe the texture of "Souflee," one of the first rocks the rover encountered, as well as "Shark," a rock that Moore says strongly resembles the "Wasatch conglomerate," a sedimentary rock layer that is common in northern Utah. Moore’s presentation will be in Room 255 of the Convention Center.

During a Monday afternoon session (Oct. 20), USGS researcher Mary Chapman, Flagstaff, Ariz., will tell fellow scientists why she believes the mounds and ridges on Mars near the Viking 2 Lander site are subglacial volcanoes, similar to those that produced the same kind of mounds and ridges on Iceland. If the subglacial hypothesis is correct, Chapman said, the thickness of the ancient Mars ice sheet can be estimated from the height of the subglacial volcanoes. All of which would prove that there was once water, and therefore life, on Mars. Chapman’s presentation will be in Room 251 of the Convention Center, at 3 p.m.

If there once was water on Mars, it may have left its traces in the minerals that comprise the rocks and sand particles of the planet’s surface, according to Wendy Calvin, of the USGS in Flagstaff. Calvin has compared the origins of high-iron clays found on Earth to areas on Mars that have the same topographical images and has determined that the same conditions that produced the clays on Earth could have also been present on Mars. Calvin will present her"Assessment of Possible Martian Microbial Environments Through Remote Sensing of Surface Mineralogy," at 2 p.m., Thursday, (Oct. 23) in Hall C of the Convention Center.

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