Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) Science Objectives

MSL MAHLI image of terrestrial fossils before launch.

Image taken by the MAHLI showing two rocks illuminated by MAHLI’s white light LEDs. On the left is an Eocene sandstone from San Diego, CA, containing a fossil marine gastropod shell (Turritella uvasana) collected by the MAHLI Principal Investigator, Ken Edgett. The shell is 12 mm (about 1/2 inch) long. The rock on the right, collected by Co-Investigator Dawn Y. Sumner (University of California, Davis), contains fossilized microbial mat remnants encased in calcite from the Gamohaan Formation of South Africa. This rock is about two and a half billion years old. The 2 millimeter scale bar equals 0.079 inch. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems


Main Objective: To contribute to the characterization and help determine the details of the history and processes recorded in geologic material at micrometer to centimeter scale at the MSL site on Mars.

Science Goals:

  • Examine rocks at the MSL site. MAHLI data will be used to examine and contribute to studies of the texture, morphology, structure, mineralogy, stratigraphy, history, and alteration of rocks encountered by MSL. 
  • Examine fines at the MSL site. MAHLI data will be used to examine Martian fines—those materials in the regolith that are smaller than 4 millimeters in diameter, such as sand, silt, and dust. MAHLI will contribute to the understanding the processes that acted on the fines and upon individual grains by studying their physical and mechanical properties, the results of rover hardware interaction with fines, and the stratigraphy, mineralogy, and depositional processes involved. 
  • Examine frost and ice at the MSL site. Frost was seen at middle latitudes by the Viking 2 lander. It was also seen at equatorial latitudes by the Opportunity rover. MAHLI can acquire images at night, when frost is most likely to occur. If present, MAHLI will be used to examine frost texture, morphology, thickness, stratigraphic position (if in the subsurface), relation to regolith, and, if possible, observe changes over time. 
  • Facilitate other MSL science. MAHLI will be employed to help the other MSL instrument teams identify and document materials that will be examined by their instruments, including samples that will be collected by the rover for detailed study in MSL’s Analytical Laboratory experiments.


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