Testing the statistical representativity of different sets of rock samples in a Martian analogue

By Julie Hartz - Crew Commander and Geologist

The research I intend to carry out as crew geologist involves field exploration and astrobiology. The future manned missions to Mars will have as major objective the assessment of the current and/or past habitability of the surface of Mars. Therefore crew geologists, supported by rovers, will have to sample the surrounding geologic “terrains” according to their physical and instruments' limitations. The research I intend to carry out aims to test the statistical representativity of different sets of samples in a Martian analogue. For example, the Mars 2020 rover sampling system is designed to collect between 30 and 40 ~15g samples of rock and regolith. I wish to test this configuration of samples and compare it to other sets (the number of sets remains to be determined) and assess which configuration enables the best stratigraphic reconstruction of the local geology. The methods may include field exploration techniques (e.g., aerial imaging, field reconnaissance through EVAs), field observations (e.g., stratigraphic logging, macro- descriptions, hand-lens-based mineralogy), sampling methods (e.g., hammers, scoops, aluminium foil/zip bags), sample analyses in the Science Dome (e.g., micro-descriptions with microscopes, micro-scale stratigraphic logging, paleoenvironment assessment), and results processing (e.g., comparison of logs with available data/literature, statistical analysis of representativity/heterogeneity).

The second research I intend to conduct at MDRS is related to astrobiological studies. My current research at Macquarie University, Australia, focuses on building a "catalog" of biosignatures that may be detected in Martian samples returned to Earth by future return missions. I wish to test the on-field detectability of these biosignatures in a Martian analogue. I am actively prospecting for a Ph.D. position related to Astrobiology and will design a research project in deeper details according to my future partner university's facilities.

As research outcomes I expect to :
(i) identify the best fitted sample configuration for stratigraphic reconstruction,
(ii) build a “catalogue” of potential biosignatures that can be identified in a Martian analogue using an on-field astrobiological protocol, and
(iii) provide insights into potential design improvements of Martian rovers.