Paper No. 4
Presentation Time: 9:45 AM


BERGER, Jeff A.1, CAMPBELL, J.L.2, EDGETT, Kenneth S.3, GELLERT, Ralf4, KING, Penelope L.5, PERRETT, Glynis M.2, PRADLER, Irina2, SCHMIDT, Mariek6 and MSL SCIENCE TEAM, The, (1)Department of Earth Sciences, Western University, 1151 Richmond St N, BGS Rm 1026, London, ON N6A 5B7, Canada, (2)Guelph-Waterloo Physics Institute, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada, (3)Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technolgy, 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, CA 91109, (4)Department of Physics, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada, (5)Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT0200, Australia, (6)Department of Earth Sciences, Brock University, 500 Glenridge Avenue, St. Catharines, ON L2S 3A1, Canada,

We present the first results of a unique measurement of the elemental composition of airborne martian dust, obtained by the α-particle X-ray spectrometer (APXS) on the rover, Curiosity, in Gale Crater, Mars. The Ti observation tray (o-tray) on the rover accumulated a thin layer of dust over ~ 48 – 77 sols, which is a combination of atmospheric dust and possible surface dust lofted by the rover’s wheels. To characterize the dust, APXS integrated over the o-tray on Sol 177 for 2.5 hr.

Deriving elemental concentrations from APXS on the o-tray requires approaches not normally applied to in situ rocks and soils. O-tray samples are usually thin (< 50 µm) compared to the APXS information depth for heavy elements (> 90 µm). Thus the standard calibration approach cannot be applied. Assuming the thin sample is homogeneous and uniform, a physical model (calculated with software APXyield) can predict the elemental signal from a layer with a given composition. This was applied to the Sol 177 o-tray dust, which appears uniform in MAHLI images. The Sol 89 Rocknest fines (Portage in situ) were set as the model composition, which is nearly identical to typical martian soils at all other rover sites studied with the APXS. Comparing the o-tray dust to Portage enables conclusions about the composition of the airborne dust.

In the Sol 177 dust, Na, Mg, Al, Si, Ca, and Fe have signals consistent with a modeled 2 – 3 µm layer of Portage composition on a Ti substrate. In contrast, S and Cl are enriched relative to Portage by 12 ± 8% and 14 ± 27%, respectively. A drop in signal for all elements indicates the dust covers 33 ± 5% of the FOV.

This is evidence that dust which settled on the o-tray in Gale on Sols ~100 – 177 has a composition similar to Rocknest fines and other martian soils. We found slight, parallel enrichments in S and Cl that are within the typical range of reported variability of S and Cl phases in martian soils. Other MSL-APXS campaigns have found that S is enriched in surface dust relative to Gale rocks. In particular, brushing away dust from rock surfaces with the Dust Removal Tool caused significant drops in SO3 (e.g., 5.6 to 1.0 apparent wt%; Wernecke Sols 168 – 173). Airborne dust is therefore an important component of the modern S flux in Gale. The dust environment in Gale has differences from other rover sites, but MSL-APXS results are similar to findings by the MER rovers.