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Student Leads Study of Mars Rover Landing Sites

April 26, 2017

Mike Bramble, a doctoral student in Earth, Environmental, and Planetary Sciences, played a leading role on a Brown University research team that published the most detailed geological history to date for a region of Mars known as Northeast Syrtis Major, a spot high on NASA's list of potential landing sites for its next Mars rover to be launched in 2020.

The region is home to a striking mineral diversity, including deposits that indicate a variety of past environments that could have hosted life. Using the highest resolution images available from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the study maps the extent of those key mineral deposits across the surface and places them within the region's larger geological context.

"When we look at this in high resolution, we can see complicated geomorphic patterns and a diversity of minerals at the surface that I think is unlike anything we've ever seen on Mars," said Bramble, who led the study, which is published in the journal Icarus. "Within a few kilometers, there's a huge spectrum of things you can see and they change very quickly."

If NASA ultimately decides to land at Northeast Syrtis, the work would help in providing a roadmap for the rover's journey.

"This is a foundational paper for considering this part of the planet as a potential landing site for the Mars2020 rover," said Jack Mustard, a professor in Brown's Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences and a coauthor on the paper. "This represents an exceptional amount of work on Mike's part, really going into the key morphologic and spectroscopic datasets we need in order to understand what this region can tell us about the history of Mars if we explore it with a rover." 

Read more of Kevin Stacey's article on the geological history of Northeast Syrtis on Mars.