The ChemCam on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover examined a brushed area on target rock "Christmas Cove" on Sept. 17, 2017, and found spectral evidence of hematite, an iron-oxide mineral. Five lines on the graph of brightness at different wavelengths correspond to the labeled points in the inset image.

November 01, 2017

The Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover examined a freshly brushed area on target rock "Christmas Cove" and found spectral evidence of hematite, an iron-oxide mineral.

ChemCam sometimes zaps rocks with a laser, but can also be used, as in this case, in a "passive" mode. In this type of investigation, the instrument's telescope delivers to spectrometers the sunlight reflected from a small target point. The upper-left inset of this graphic is an image from ChemCam's Remote Micro-Imager with five labeled points that the instrument analyzed. The image covers an area about 2 inches (5 centimeters) wide, and the bright lines are fractures in the rock filled with calcium sulfate minerals. The five charted lines of the graphic correspond to those five points and show the spectrometer measurements of brightness at thousands of different wavelengths, from 400 nanometers (at the violet end of the visible-light spectrum) to 840 nanometers (in near-infrared).

Sections of the spectrum measurements that are helpful for identifying hematite are annotated. These include a dip around 535 nanometers, the green-light portion of the spectrum at which fine-grained hematite tends to absorb more light and reflect less compared to other parts of the spectrum. That same green-absorbing characteristic of the hematite makes it appear purplish when imaged through special filters of Curiosity's Mast Camera and even in usual color images. The spectra also show maximum reflectance values near 750 nanometers, followed by a steep decrease in the spectral slope toward 840 nanometers, both of which are consistent with hematite.

This ChemCam examination of Christmas Cove was part of an experiment to determine whether the rock had evidence of hematite under a tan coating of dust. The target area was brushed with Curiosity's Dust Removal Tool prior to these ChemCam passive observations on Sept. 17, 2017, during the 1,819th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars.

ChemCam is one of 10 instruments in Curiosity's science payload. The U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory, in Los Alamos, New Mexico, developed ChemCam in partnership with scientists and engineers funded by the French national space agency (CNES), the University of Toulouse and the French national research agency (CNRS). More information about ChemCam is available at




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