Mars-Relevant Field Experiences in Morocco: The Importance of Spatial Scales and Subsurface Exploration
During field work at the Ibn Battuta Mars analogue sites, two research questions were analyzed: (1) How do we identify sampling sites using remote and local imaging and (2) what kind of information can be gained from shallow subsurface exploration? While remote images help in targeting field activities in general, the connection between observations at different spatial scales for different rocky desert terrain types is not well established; in this, focused comparison of remote in situ images of well-selected analogues would help a great deal. Dried up lake beds as discerned in remotely acquired data may not show signatures of past water activity, while shallow subsurface exploration could reveal the lacustrine period. Acquisition of several satellite images of the same terrain under different geometries would help to support the planning of such in situ work. The selection of appropriate sampling sites in fluvial settings could be improved by analyzing long, meter-high, open-air outcrops that formed during most recent fluvial episodes. Such settings are abundant on Earth and could be present on Mars but may be just below the resolution of available data. By using 20-30-cm-deep excavations, shallow subsurface exploration could reveal the last period of geological history that would have been unattainable by surface observation alone. Aggregates embedded in the original strata or from heavily pulverized samples could not be identified; only weakly fragmented samples viewed right after acquisition showed aggregates, and thus, the Close-Up Imager (CLUPI) on the ExoMover might provide information on cementation-related aggregation on the observing plate before crushing. The mechanical separation of different size grains (mainly clays and attached minerals) would also support the identification of individual components. To maximize context information during subsurface exploration, rover imaging should be accomplished before crushing; however, currently planned imaging may not be ideal for this.