Curiosity Finds ‘Different’ Jake Rocks
October 11, 2012

Jake Rock On Mars Different Than Other Martian Rocks, Curiosity Finds

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

NASA announced during a teleconference on Thursday that one particular rock its newest rover Curiosity has reached out and touched has a more dynamic composition than expected.

Engineers used two instruments on Curiosity to study the chemical makeup of the rock, known as "Jake Matijevic," which could help tell a story about unseen environments and planetary processes.

"This rock is a close match in chemical composition to an unusual but well-known type of igneous rock found in many volcanic provinces on Earth," Edward Stolper of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who is a Curiosity co-investigator, said in a statement. "With only one Martian rock of this type, it is difficult to know whether the same processes were involved, but it is a reasonable place to start thinking about its origin."

Rocks on Earth with a similar composition to Jake typically come from processes in the planet's mantle beneath the crust.

Jake was the first rock analyzed by Curiosity's arm-mounted Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) instrument, and the thirteenth rock examined by the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument.

Two spots seen on Jake were analyzed by the rover's APXS instrument, giving scientists information that makes it different than other rocks seen on the Martian surface.

"Jake is kind of an odd Martian rock," APXS Principal Investigator Ralf Gellert of the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, said in a statement. "It's high in elements consistent with the mineral feldspar, and low in magnesium and iron."

ChemCam found unique compositions at each of the 14 target points on the rock, hitting different mineral grains within it.

"ChemCam had been seeing compositions suggestive of feldspar since August, and we're getting closer to confirming that now with APXS data, although there are additional tests to be done," ChemCam Principal Investigator Roger Wiens of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico said in a statement.

The mission is still in the progress of getting the first soil scoop sample into its analytical instruments inside Curiosity's lab.

"Yestersol, we used Curiosity's first perfectly scooped sample for cleaning the interior surfaces of our 150-micron sample-processing chambers. It's our version of a Martian carwash," Chris Roumeliotis, lead turret rover planner at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.

The team was able to carefully study the material at a sandy patch called "Rocknest," where the rover will be spending about three weeks.

"That first sample was perfect, just the right particle-size distribution," JPL's Luther Beegle, Curiosity sampling-system scientist, said in a statement. "We had a lot of steps to be sure it was safe to go through with the scooping and cleaning."

NASA had to put its soil sample analysis on hold after a bright, tiny object was seen in an image taken by Curiosity's MastCam. The rover's team spent a few days analyzing what the object in the image was before moving on, determining was most likely a piece of plastic, probably from Curiosity itself.