May 7, 2014
Curiosity Mars Rover Drills Windjana Sandstone Slab
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NASA's Curiosity Rover has drilled into a slab of Martian sandstone from which portions of rock powder will be delivered into the rover's internal instruments.
Early Tuesday, Curiosity rover team members at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) received confirmation of the rover's third successful acquisition of a drilled rock sample from the target rock "Windjana." Created by Curiosity's hammering drill, the new hole is 0.63 inch diameter, 2.6 inches deep, and visible in images returned by the rover.
This third drilling, a full-depth hole drilled for sample collection, is near to one drilled earlier this week in the same rock. The previous drilling was a shallower test hole, which the scientists used to gain a preview of the rock's interior by use of the tailings. Tailings are the ground rock and effluents generated by drilling or mining into rock—basically the bits that are left over.
"The drill tailings from this rock are darker-toned and less red than we saw at the two previous drill sites," said Jim Bell of Arizona State University, Tempe, deputy principal investigator for Curiosity's Mast Camera (Mastcam), in a recent NASA statement. "This suggests that the detailed chemical and mineral analysis that will be coming from Curiosity's other instruments could reveal different materials than we've seen before. We can't wait to find out!"
Last year, the rover drilled two other sites at a mudstone in the Yellowknife Bay area. These previous sites yielded evidence of an ancient lakebed environment with key chemical elements and a chemical energy source that long ago provided conditions favorable for microbial life.
Currently, Curiosity is drilling at a site called "The Kimberley," approximately 2.5 miles southwest of Yellowknife Bay. This location moves the rover closer to the mission's long-term destination on the lower slopes of Mount Sharp.
After being sieved, the drilling samples will be delivered to laboratories — the Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin) and the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument (SAM) — onboard the rover in order to determine mineral and chemical composition. As Curiosity moves farther toward Mount Sharp, the analysis of the samples will continue. The JPL team chose Windjana for drilling in order to analyze the cementing material that holds together the sand-sized grains of the sandstone.
The mission of NASA's Curiosity rover is to assess ancient habitable environments on Mars, as well as major changes in environmental conditions. JPL manages and built the rover for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.