The first sample of material ever taken from the inside of a rock on another planet has been obtained by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity. NASA just released new images showing the drilled material. The sample material will give researchers a look into what Mars was like during the rock material’s formation.
“Seeing the powder from the drill in the scoop allows us to verify for the first time the drill collected a sample as it bore into the rock,” said JPL’s Scott McCloskey, the drill systems engineer for Curiosity. “Many of us have been working toward this day for years. Getting final confirmation of successful drilling is incredibly gratifying. For the sampling team, this is the equivalent of the landing team going crazy after the successful touchdown.”
Curiosity’s drill, located on one of its many robotic arms, obtained the sample powder as it made a 2.5-inch hole in the flat Martian bedrock on February 8th. The sample will now be put through a sieve, and portions of it will be analyzed by the scientific instruments inside of the rover.
“The scoop now holding the precious sample is part of Curiosity’s Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) device. During the next steps of processing, the powder will be enclosed inside CHIMRA and shaken once or twice over a sieve that screens out particles larger than 0.006 inch (150 microns) across.”
“Small portions of the sieved sample later will be delivered through inlet ports on top of the rover deck into the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument and Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument.”
“In response to information gained during testing at JPL, the processing and delivery plan has been adjusted to reduce use of mechanical vibration. The 150-micron screen in one of the two test versions of CHIMRA became partially detached after extensive use, although it remained usable. The team has added precautions for use of Curiosity’s sampling system while continuing to study the cause and ramifications of the separation.”
The area where the sample was obtained is a “fine-grained, veiny sedimentary rock called ‘John Klein,’ named in memory of a Mars Science Laboratory deputy project manager who died in 2011. The rock was selected for the first sample drilling because it may hold evidence of wet environmental conditions long ago. The rover’s laboratory analysis of the powder may provide information about those conditions.”
“NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Project is using the Curiosity rover with its 10 science instruments to investigate whether an area within Mars’ Gale Crater ever has offered an environment favorable for microbial life. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.”
Curiosity is currently about one-third through its primary mission.
Source: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS