Research Article

Martian Fluvial Conglomerates at Gale Crater

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Science  31 May 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6136, pp. 1068-1072
DOI: 10.1126/science.1237317

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Going to Mars

The Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft containing the Curiosity rover, was launched from Earth in November 2011 and arrived at Gale crater on Mars in August 2012. Zeitlin et al. (p. 1080) report measurements of the energetic particle radiation environment inside the spacecraft during its cruise to Mars, confirming the hazard likely to be posed by this radiation to astronauts on a future potential trip to Mars. Williams et al. (p. 1068, see the Perspective by Jerolmack) report the detection of sedimentary conglomerates (pebbles mixed with sand and turned to rock) at Gale crater. The rounding of the rocks suggests abrasion of the pebbles as they were transported by flowing water several kilometers or more from their source.


Observations by the Mars Science Laboratory Mast Camera (Mastcam) in Gale crater reveal isolated outcrops of cemented pebbles (2 to 40 millimeters in diameter) and sand grains with textures typical of fluvial sedimentary conglomerates. Rounded pebbles in the conglomerates indicate substantial fluvial abrasion. ChemCam emission spectra at one outcrop show a predominantly feldspathic composition, consistent with minimal aqueous alteration of sediments. Sediment was mobilized in ancient water flows that likely exceeded the threshold conditions (depth 0.03 to 0.9 meter, average velocity 0.20 to 0.75 meter per second) required to transport the pebbles. Climate conditions at the time sediment was transported must have differed substantially from the cold, hyper-arid modern environment to permit aqueous flows across several kilometers.

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