Curiosity Begins Exploring Yellowknife Bay
December 20, 2012

Mars Rover Curiosity Looking For New Rocks To Drill

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

NASA's Curiosity rover began exploring "Yellowknife Bay" on Mars this week, helping to provide information to researchers about which rock to drill.

Researchers will use Curiosity's percussive drill to collect a sample from the interior of a rock, which is another new feat for the Martian rover.

After the powdered-rock sample is sieved and portioned by a sample processing mechanism on the rover's arm, it will be analyzed by instruments inside Curiosity.

Yellowknife Bay contains different types of terrain which the rover has traversed since landing inside Gale Crater. The terrain is one of three types that intersect at a location dubbed "Glenelg."

NASA said Curiosity reached the lip of a 2-foot descent into Yellowknife Bay with a 46-foot drive on December 11. The next day, a drive of about 86 feet brought the rover well inside the basin. The team has been employing the Mast Camera and the laser wielding Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) for remote-sensing studies of rocks along the way.

The rover drove about 108 feet to reach rock targets of interest called "Costello" and "Flaherty." The team used the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) at the end of the rover's arm to help examine targets.

NASA said the rover drove again on December 17, traveling about 18 feet farther into Yellowknife Bay, bringing the mission's total driving distance to 0.42 mile.

An additional drive is planned this week before the rover team gets a holiday break. Curiosity will continue studying the Martian environment from its holiday location at the end point of that drive within the area.

For 2013, the mission's plans center on driving towards the primary science destination, which lies about 3-miles away on Mount Sharp.

Curiosity has a two-year prime mission that is tasked with assessing whether areas inside Gale Crater ever offered a habitable environment for microbes.