Surface and subsurface composition of the life in the Atacama field sites from rover data and orbital image analysis

Piatek, Jennifer L.; Hardgrove, Craig; Moersch, Jeffrey E.; Drake, Darrell M.; Wyatt, Michael B.; Rampey, Michael; Carlisle, Orion; Warren-Rhodes, Kim; Dohm, James M.; Hock, Andrew N.; Cabrol, Nathalie A.; Wettergreen, David S.; Grin, Edmond A.; Diaz, Guillermo Chong; Coppin, Peter; Weinstein, Shmuel; Cockell, Charles S.; Marinangeli, Lucia; Ori, Gian Gabriele; Smith, Trey; Jonak, Dominic; Wagner, Michael; Stubbs, Kristen; Thomas, Geb; Pudenz, Erin and Glasgow, Justin (2007). Surface and subsurface composition of the life in the Atacama field sites from rover data and orbital image analysis. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, 112(g4) G04S04.



The Life in the Atacama project examined six different sites in the Atacama Desert (Chile) over 3 years in an attempt to remotely detect the presence of life with a rover. The remote science team, using only orbital and rover data sets, identified areas with a high potential for life as targets for further inspection by the rover. Orbital data in the visible/near infrared (VNIR) and in the thermal infrared (TIR) were used to examine the mineralogy, geomorphology, and chlorophyll potential of the field sites. Field instruments included two spectrometers (VNIR reflectance and TIR emission) and a neutron detector: this project represents the first time a neutron detector has been used as part of a “science-blind” rover field test. Rover-based spectroscopy was used to identify the composition of small scale features not visible in the orbital images and to improve interpretations of those data sets. The orbital and ground-based data sets produced consistent results, suggesting that much of the field sites consist of altered volcanic terrains with later deposits of sulfates, quartz, and iron oxides. At one location (Site A), the ground-based spectral data revealed considerably greater compositional diversity than was seen from the orbital view. One neutron detector transect provided insight into subsurface hydrogen concentrations, which correlated with life and surface features. The results presented here have implications for targeting strategies, especially for future Mars rover missions looking for potential habitats/paleohabitats.

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