Tonight's Sky
Sun
Sun
Moon
Moon
Mercury
Mercury
Venus
Venus
Mars
Mars
Jupiter
Jupiter
Saturn
Saturn

Tonight's Sky — Change location

OR

Searching...

Tonight's Sky — Select location

Tonight's Sky — Enter coordinates

° '
° '

Mars soil sample delivered for analysis inside Curiosity

The Mars rover is analyzing its first dirt sample to determine what minerals it contains.
Mars-soil-sample
Three bite marks left in the martian ground by the scoop on the robotic arm of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity are visible in this image taken by the rover's right Navigation Camera during the mission's 69th martian day, or sol, October 15, 2012. // Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has ingested its first solid sample into an analytical instrument inside the rover, a capability at the core of the two-year mission.

The rover's Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument is analyzing this sample to determine what minerals it contains.

"We are crossing a significant threshold for this mission by using CheMin on its first sample," said John Grotzinger from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "This instrument gives us a more definitive mineral-identifying method than ever before used on Mars: X-ray diffraction. Confidently identifying minerals is important because minerals record the environmental conditions under which they form."

The sample is a sieved portion — about as much material as in a baby aspirin — from the third scoop collected by Curiosity as a windblown patch of dusty sand called "Rocknest." The rover's robotic arm delivered the sample to CheMin's opened inlet funnel on the rover's deck October 17.

The previous day, the rover shook the scooped material inside sample-processing chambers to scrub internal surfaces of any residue carried from Earth. One earlier scoopful also was used for cleaning. Additional repetitions of this cleaning method will be used before delivery of a future sample to the rover's other internal analytic instrument, the Sample Analysis at Mars investigation, which studies samples' chemistry.

Various small bits of light-toned material on the ground at Rocknest have affected the rover's activities in the past several days. One piece about half an inch (1.3 centimeters) long was noticed October 7. The rover team postponed use of the robotic arm for two days while investigating this object, and assessed it to be debris from the spacecraft.

Images taken after Curiosity collected its second scoop of Rocknest material October 12 showed smaller bits of light-toned material in the hole dug by the scooping action. This led to discarding that scoopful rather than using it to scrub the processing mechanisms. Scientists assess these smaller, bright particles to be native martian material, not from the spacecraft.

"We plan to learn more both about the spacecraft material and about the smaller, bright particles," said Richard Cook of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "We will finish determining whether the spacecraft material warrants concern during future operations. The native Mars particles become fodder for the mission's scientific studies."

During a two-year prime mission, researchers are using Curiosity's 10 instruments to assess whether the study area has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

0

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Read and share your comments on this article
Comment on this article
Want to leave a comment?
Only registered members of Astronomy.com are allowed to comment on this article. Registration is FREE and only takes a couple minutes.

Login or Register now.
0 comments
ADVERTISEMENT

FREE EMAIL NEWSLETTER

Receive news, sky-event information, observing tips, and more from Astronomy's weekly email newsletter.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
BoxProductcovernov

Click here to receive a FREE e-Guide exclusively from Astronomy magazine.

Find us on Facebook

Loading...