What Manganese on Mars Might Mean

Martian manganese continues to fascinate. Its mere existence on Mars brings up a host of questions about environmental conditions in the past and present, and also what it might signify in ancient rocks on Earth. It would be great to get this stuff into one of our Perseverance tubes!

So what’s so great about manganese? Manganese minerals have long been used as an indicator of redox conditions—that is, they tell us about a type of powerful chemical reaction that often involves oxygen. When we see manganese minerals on Earth, they tell us that not only was there liquid water, but also there must have been strong oxidants present—or microbes doing related chemistry. When we see manganese minerals on Mars, we may then ask whether they formed by some unusual oxidizing chemistry unique to the martian environment, or whether like on Earth, they may be pointing to the past presence of oxygen or life. 

Read more about manganese in Eos, AGU‘s science magazine: “Does This Mineral Indicate Oxygen on Mars?” by Elise Cutts

Interview in Santa Fe Institute’s ExtraTerritorial

I had a remarkable conversation with David Krakauer for the Santa Fe Institute‘s latest issue of ExtraTerritorial! Check it out, along with two other fascinating, thought-provoking interviews.

DAVID KRAKAUER: Your work focuses on the far reaches of space. What is your emotional response to the solar system?

NINA LANZA: Incredible awe and fascination. I was never afraid of space. A lot of people imagine their tininess in the universe and they feel horrible and they never want to feel that way again. But I love that feeling of smallness. I think it puts every problem that I have into a perspective that’s man- ageable. Here we are, these tiny creatures on this tiny rock in this tiny solar system. Whatever problem I have here on Earth is not as big as what’s out there. The universe is…

The first sample tube on Mars

Engineers test dropping a tube from a Perseverance replica. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

With this first sample tube deposited on the martian surface, we are one step closer to doing the very first sample return mission from Mars. These samples will be returned to Earth in 2033 for analysis (and reanalysis) in our terrestrial laboratories, which will answer many fundamental questions…and likely bring up a host of new questions as well!

Dust devils recorded on Mars (and a quote in The Atlantic)

Dust devils form on Mars for much the same reasons that they form on Earth: Turbulence in the atmosphere. Today, the surface of Mars is dominated by these wind-related processes. We can see in real time how wind moves materials across the planet and how these materials can gently scour rocks and accumulate, thereby changing the landscape.

I got to speak about Martian wind processes with Marina Koren at The Atlantic: “The Luckiest Rover” — Perseverance Captures Mars Dust Devil Sound, December 2022

From the summer: GRAPE 2022 Field Work in the Canadian Arctic

 ICYMI: Our Los Alamos National Laboratory health physics field coordinator James Harper tells the story of our Explorers Club Discovery Expedition #GRAPE2022 field work in the Canadian Arctic at Haughton Crater this summer.

Keeping Mars scientists safe in the Arctic Arctic by James Harper — What a radiological control technician supervisor was doing 600 miles north of the Arctic Circle with a team of Mars scientists

In his own words, James Harper, a health physics field coordinator at Los Alamos National Laboratory, gives a fascinating account of why he accompanied a team of the Laboratory’s Mars scientists this summer to a 31-million-year-old crater, 600 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Around the Lab, Harper provides radiation protection field support to workers carrying out national security missions. This unexpected assignment definitely broadened his horizons. 

James Harper: “Wow! The day I never expected has finally arrived. As I cross the threshold of the Boeing 737, I reflect. Several months have slowly passed until this point and now in a few short days I’ll be exploring the secluded Arctic, in total isolation, thousands of miles from civilization — in the name of…”

Read more.

From LANL: “Ann Ollila and Nina Lanza traversing the river’s shoreline in search of a hydrothermal vug — a void in a rock formation created when mineral crystals in the rock are dissolved or eroded. Most hydrothermal vugs are filled with flowing, mineral-saturated water.”

Standing on Mars

I got to stand on Mars, see a full size model of Perseverance and Ingenuity, and talk visitors’ ears off about SuperCam last month at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science for the Perseverance Mars Rover’s Roving With Perseverance tour!

Nina on the simulated Mars surface at NMMNHS.
This is a life-sized view of the Amalik area. Can you see the abrasion patch?

Roving With Perseverance Tour Dates

Check the the Roving With Perseverance website for tour dates. Upcoming and current locations include (in addition to NMMNHS) the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, the Edelman Planetarium in Glassboro, N.J., the Museum of Science in Boston.

Also, I couldn’t resist…

Nina doing a headstand on the simulated Mars surface at NMMNHS

Los Alamos National Laboratory

Briefing the Secretary of Energy on Mars!

During Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm’s recent visit to Los Alamos, I was lucky enough to chat with her about the latest results from the Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars.

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