My Life as a Martian Rover: Part II Posted on May 12th, 2016 by

Ruby Schauffler (Geology ’17) recently spent a few days with scientists from NASA, the Planetary Science Institute and several universities testing equipment that will be installed on the next Martian rover.  Here is the second installment of her field report.

Field Day 2 (4/20/16)

Today I started at waypoint 4 and was to look at five specific rocks at the base of the cliff. We named these rocks Otis, Max, Stewart, and Buckley. The purpose of these names was for labeling samples and not giving away any clues to other teams while talking about our data. I took clast photos of the ground around each one of these rocks and then took regular images of each rock. VNIR data was taken for Milo, the exposed portion of Otis, the varnished portion of Max to see if it was similar to the vanished boulder we saw the first day, and then Stewart and Buckley. A Mahli photo was taken of Buckley along with a sample for XRD analysis.

When this data was brought back and downlinked my team had a five sol mission for me. A sol, pronounced Saul not soul, is one Martian day.  This began with me taking images of an area we started calling the kink. The kink is waypoint 4.2 in figure 1. Here I took a 180 degree panoramic image of what was to either side of me and what was in front of me. Then I climbed to the top of the mesa, waypoint 5, and took some clast images of the ground there and a 360 degree panoramic image at the horizon level.

Once these photos were downlinked my team realized the issue with sending me on a 5 sol trek. They were more interested in what I had seen in the 180 degree panoramic image at the kink then what I had seen at waypoint 5 on the top of the mesa. So, going against linear rules we pretended that we had downlinked between the sols and I went back to the kink with Sarah and John. The facies my team was interested in at the kink was a yellow looking layer. When I returned to the kink I took a panoramic image of the yellow layer and then some individual images of the grayish brown blocky rock in float in the yellow outcrop. We also took VNIR data of the brown and gray areas of the rock in float and of the yellow outcrop it was found in. Samples of the gray brown rock in float and the yellow outcrop were taken for XRD analysis.

This was my last task of the day as a rover.

I will say that during my 5 sol trek I took a break from being Ruby Rover and became Ruby the geologist. I was with our “Site God” Brian who took me from waypoint 5 up to an area that the rover would not have to explore. This was the highest point on our site and it was covered in sandstone. We were in the Dakota sand stone formation. We were sort of just looking around and hiking when all of the sudden Brian told me he was looking for the perfect rock. I said perfect for what? All of the sudden he was throwing chunks of sandstone off the side of the cliff and watching then tumble down and break apart. We did that for a while, just playing out in the field and then we hiked back to camp.

I really couldn’t appreciate more my time with the scientists on this team. They all had so much to show me and teach me and they all did it in a very fun and professional way.

Ruby group UT

Field Day 3 (4/21/16)

We found the bio signatures (Figure 3)! We started calling the bio signature pieces SWAM (siliceous wavy algal matt) which the tiger team came up with right away so they could talk about it around camp. We started at the bottom of the kink and took XRD samples of the yellow facies and the SWAM. Then, Sarah, John, and I traversed up the kink and took another XRD sample from a piece of the SWAM in the outcrop it came from and VNIR data of the same rock. This was waypoint 4.2 and I took a 180 degree panoramic image here. From here we hiked to waypoint 6 and took a panoramic image of the upper and lower stratigraphy along with XRD samples and VNIR from each stratigraphic section. Also at this waypoint, I stood at the highest point and took a 180 degree panoramic image of the mesa out in front of us. Moving ahead we went to waypoint 7 and took a 180 degree panoramic image, an XRD sample, and VNIR data of the outcrop there. After this we hiked back to camp.

Ruby rock UTPhoto: Siliceous wavy algal mat (SWAM). This was the type of bio signature that was known and to be found at our field site. Here you see it in float but there was a layer of it in the stratigraphic column near the top of the mesa.

We took the data for these last few waypoints in one big trip to save time walking to and from camp. Thankfully, the data we collected on our last run was enough for the linear team to draw conclusions on what was happening with the stratigraphy in the area and where the bio signatures are located.

For the next few hours, I the rover recharged my solar panels (took a nap), and waited for each team to make its conclusions.

Ruby camp UT

After lunch all the teams grouped up and shared the stratigraphic columns we were able to create. The tiger team had the most detailed and accurate description of our site, the linear team did the next best job, and the walk about team had just missed the SWAM by taking their panorama one level higher than we had on the linear team.

This is an accurate fluke that could be happening at any time with the rover we have on Mars today. Any pictures could be taken inches from what we wish to see and we may never see it because we move on to the next area if nothing is found in the current one.

After going through the stratigraphic columns from each team we all took a hike over to look at the SWAM in float and in the outcrop. We took some team photos in front of the mesa and are currently working on comparing and analyzing the samples collected by each team.


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