One of the latest documents on the Curiosity Mars mission appears to have a lead author in space at this time.
NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins managed to squeeze a publication about the Curiosity rover mission, which is reaching its 10th anniversary on Friday to Mars (Aug. 5), shortly before launch to the International Space Station.
It has been a long way to get published on this Journal of Geophysical Research article (opens in a new tab), however, which discusses the environment of Curiosity’s landing site at Gale Crater. Watkins and his team filed the document in 2017, but a distraction has emerged in his professional life.
“Immediately after the article was returned to us by the magazine’s editor with reviewers’ comments, I was selected by NASA and was unable to complete the reviews before submitting to serve as an astronaut candidate,” Watkins said. to Eos (opens in a new tab)a scientific publication of the American Geophysical Union (which also publishes the journal in which Watkins’ article appeared.)
A typical astronaut candidate must complete at least two years of training before being certified for space flight, and to be fair to Watkins, she was immersed in her SpaceX Crew-4 mission training almost immediately following her 2020 certification.
“After a few years of focusing on training, I was able to come back [the paper] with the help of my co-authors, “Watkins said, noting that final acceptance occurred around the April 27 launch date for Crew-4. The release took place on June 8, about six weeks into its mission. .
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The affiliation with Curiosity comes as no surprise, as Watkins was trained as a planetary geologist and previously worked as a science team collaborator on the mission, according to her NASA biography. (opens in a new tab).
His undergraduate research at the University of California, Los Angeles, just down the street from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where Curiosity operations take place, has focused on the “mechanisms of placing large landslides on Mars and Earth. “said the agency.
The Watkins-led article focuses on the formation of sedimentary rocks on Mars, based on data collected by Curiosity. Rocks, the document states in its plain language summary, are formed after sediments have been “exhumed and recycled back into the crust through renewed burial.”
The paper aims to provide more information on the exhumation (discovery), which is “loosely linked” to Mars. The team used eroded surfaces as a proxy to better understand how ancient rocks are exhumed on the Red Planet, suggesting that it is mainly dust that causes that process and not water on Mars.
This process can be helpful in better understanding the search for life on Mars, adds the summary. “Understanding the sedimentary rock cycle is particularly significant in the search for ancient biological signatures on Mars as virtually all remnants of the first terrestrial biosphere are preserved in the sedimentary rocks that formed in this way.”
The search for habitability on Mars is Curiosity’s main mission, while its more recent cousin Perseverance scours the Jezero crater for signs of ancient life itself. Perseverance will help a sample return mission to Mars to bring rocks and potential biological signatures back to Earth for detailed analysis.
“This paper describes the discovery of a nonconformity in a sequence of sedimentary rocks on Mars. A nonconformity represents a discontinuity in deposition time between sequences of rocks,” Watkins told Eos of the work.
The discrepancy, he said, is significant because it shows a transition time between the deposition of older and younger rocks, between the different environmental “regimes” contrasted by lake rocks and the more recent Aeolian ones.
“In this case, it separates the rocks, which record a period when a lake was present at the Gale Crater, and an overlying sequence of rocks which record a period when the climate was much drier, leading to the formation of Aeolian sand dunes. , “Watkins added.
Watkins, also the first black woman to embark on a long-duration space mission, may be tasked with doing planetary geology on another world. The astronaut is one of the cadres nominated for future missions of the Artemis program, which aims to put boots on the moon later in the 1920s.