12th October 2021
Speaker: Dr Steve Banham – Imperial College London
Topic: Mars Curiosity Rover’s Adventures in the Gale Crater
Since 2012, the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity has been traversing the lower foothills of Mount Sharp in Gale crater. During this time, the rover has driven over 28km and has encountered an array of rocks which indicate substantial changes in surface conditions between the formation of Gale crater some 3.8 billion years ago, and the present day.
The rocks encountered by the rover record evidence abundant surface water across a range of depositional; environments: the Bradbury group records evidence of fluvial systems reworking coarse sediment into fluvial bar-forms; the Mount Sharp group records deposition of silts and mud in a lacustrine setting, with occasional coarser sediment brought in by rivers. Toward the top of the explored section of the Mount Sharp group – where Curiosity is currently exploring – evidence of increased aridity is preserved in the rock strata. Overlying, and draping across these strata are the Stimson formation, which records the existence of an aeolian dune field that was located on the flank of Mount Sharp.
These discoveries point to a habitable environment where life could have flourished, and the rover has found evidence of the chemical precursors for life. In this presentation, we will look in detail at these findings and the future for Curiosity’s investigation of Gale crater.
Steve Banham is a Sedimentologist who complete his PhD at the University of Leeds investigating the impact of halokinesis on fluvial systems. He then worked as a Petroleum Basin Analyst at the BGS, investigating hydrocarbon resources on the UKCS, before moving to a research position at Imperial College. Since moving to imperial college, he has participated on the NASA-JPL Mars Science Laboratory mission, as a collaborator on the Mastcam instrument team, and is now a collaborator on the PanCam instrument of the ESA ExoMars rover, Rosalind Franklin.
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