NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is now gearing up to do its second-ever rock drilling and sampling. Curiosity is scheduled to begin the move to the “Cumberland” rock within the next few days.
The “Cumberland” rock is only around nine feet to the west of the first rock that Curiosity drilled back in February. Since then, solar activity and a computer glitch have worked to limit Curiosity’s activity.
During the first rock sampling, of the rock referred to as “John Klein”, the Mars rover unearthed evidence of a previous environment that would have been very favorable for microbial life. Both of the rocks are part of the rock formation referred to as “Yellowknife Bay.”
The primary purpose of drilling another rock from the same formation is to confirm the results of the first drilling, “which indicated the chemistry of the first powdered sample from John Klein was much less oxidizing than that of a soil sample the rover scooped up before it began drilling.”
“We know there is some cross-contamination from the previous sample each time,” said Dawn Sumner, a long-term planner for Curiosity’s science team at the University of California at Davis. “For the Cumberland sample, we expect to have most of that cross-contamination come from a similar rock, rather than from very different soil.”
Even though the Cumberland and John Klein are rather similar, “Cumberland appears to have more of the erosion-resistant granules that cause the surface bumps. The bumps are concretions, or clumps of minerals, which formed when water soaked the rock long ago. Analysis of a sample containing more material from these concretions could provide information about the variability within the rock layer that includes both John Klein and Cumberland.”
“Mission engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., recently finished upgrading Curiosity’s operating software following a four-week break. The rover continued monitoring the Martian atmosphere during the break, but the team did not send any new commands because Mars and the sun were positioned in such a way the sun could have blocked or corrupted commands sent from Earth.”
“Curiosity is about nine months into a two-year prime mission since landing inside Gale Crater on Mars in August 2012. After the second rock drilling in Yellowknife Bay and a few other investigations nearby, the rover will drive toward the base of Mount Sharp, a 3-mile-tall (5-kilometers) layered mountain inside the crater.”