Mudcracks

I had the great fortune to start working on Mars missions as an undergraduate student at Washington University. With Ray Arvidson, I spent most of my time studying the terramechanics – interaction between wheels and terrain – of the Curiosity rover. We did this with a combination of computational modeling and full-scale rover testbeds (including taking test rovers out for a spin in the Mojave desert). As part of this work I spent a summer at JPL working with Matthew Heverly on Curiosity mobility. Ask me about the time I accidentally crashed a rover at JPL. You can read more about Curiosity terramechanics here, here, and here. I also developed a method for deconvolving overlapping Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer observations from the Opportunity rover to allow sampling of small-scale variations in surface compositions.

At Caltech, I work under John Grotzinger as a student collaborator on the Curiosity rover science team. Most of my effort goes toward characterizing the sedimentology and stratigraphy of the Murray formation, a predominantly fluviolacustrine mudstone that the rover has been traversing for the last few years, to better understand its formation and the environmental history of Gale crater. This includes observational studies (e.g. the mudcracks discussed below) and applications of novel techniques for quantifying regional structure (forthcoming). I also get to work with an awesome group of scientists and engineers as a surface properties scientist, meaning I ensure that the rover doesn’t drive where it shouldn’t. I’m also part of a group of folks who provide long-term guidance for the rover’s future path. Some of my work is described in more detail below.

Mudcracks in Gale Crater Record Evidence of a Drying Martian Lake

Since landing on the interior plains of northern Gale crater, the Curiosity rover has explored more than 200 m of stratigraphy that records evidence for past fluvial, deltaic, lacustrine, and eolian environments. Currently, Curiosity is investigating the Murray formation, which records several distinct facies including laminated siltstones and sandstones of lacustrine origin (see Grotzinger et al., 2015). More recently, Curiosity has explored intermittent exposures of broken and rotated slabs of bedrock that are more consistent with traction transport in shallow lacustrine environments. In this region, Curiosity investigated a rock slab called “Old Soaker” whose surface is covered in a network of raised polygonal ridges that we interpret as likely originating via desiccation in a drying lacustrine environment.

Stein_Geology

Explore a 3D Model of Old Soaker made from overlapping MAHLI images (Credit to S. Le Mouelic):

Read the press release for more information.