01/21 - Schoolchildren send samples to ASU Mars facility for comparisons - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

01/21 - Schoolchildren send samples to ASU Mars facility for comparisons

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Posted: Wednesday, January 21, 2004 8:56 am | Updated: 6:03 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

Schoolchildren from around the world are jumping at the chance to help Arizona State University space scientists analyze Martian geology by sending donations for a "rock library."

In the past several days, about 150 packages containing rocks have been delivered to ASU’s Mars Space Flight Facility. Most are from the United States, but others are arriving from Canada, Europe and South America.

"We’re expecting to eventually get tons,’’ said spokesman Jim Hathaway.

ASU’s facility developed instruments for the rovers and two satellites orbiting Mars that are giving scientists their most precise picture ever of the mineralogical and chemical composition of the Red Planet’s surface.

Researchers now need a diverse collection of Earth rocks for comparisons with what are found on Mars.

The first deliveries came in only a few days after a recent televised National Ae ronautics and Space Administration news conference on the current Mars land rover missions. ASU geologist Philip Christensen used the occasion to introduce the "Schoolhouse Rocks" program.

Children in more than a thousand classrooms heard the request, Hathaway said.

By reading the infrared spectrum of radiation emitted by objects, the process produces a chemical "fingerprint" of individual rocks, said ASU researcher Alice Baldridge.

The greater the variety of fingerprints of Earth rocks that can be analyzed, "the more it will help us figure out what the rocks we’re looking at on Mars are made of,’’ Baldridge said.

Once researchers begin cataloging the specimens, the rock library will go online, where students can look up the "spectral signature" of the rocks they’ve sent.

Information on the program is available at http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov /classroom/schoolhouse/.

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