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Curiosity rover drill pulls first taste from Mars mountain

The mission’s emphasis has changed from drive, drive, drive to systematic layer-by-layer investigation. “Curiosity flew hundreds of millions of miles to do this.”

This image from the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the first sample-collection hole drilled in Mount Sharp, the layered mountain that is the science destination of the rover's extended mission. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

This image from the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows the first sample-collection hole drilled in Mount Sharp, the layered mountain that is the science destination of the rover’s extended mission. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has collected its first taste of the layered mountain whose scientific allure drew the mission to choose this part of Mars as a landing site.

Late Wednesday, September 24, the rover’s hammering drill chewed about 2.6 inches (6.7 centimeters) deep into a basal-layer outcrop on Mount Sharp and collected a powdered-rock sample. Data and images received early Thursday at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, confirmed success of this operation. The powder collected by the drilling is temporarily held within the sample-handling mechanism on the rover’s arm.

This southeastward-looking vista from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the

This southeastward-looking vista from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows the “Pahrump Hills” outcrop and surrounding terrain seen from a position about 70 feet (20 meters) northwest of the outcrop. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

After landing on Mars in August 2012 but before beginning the drive toward Mount Sharp, Curiosity spent much of the mission’s first year productively studying in the Yellowknife Bay area, an area much closer to the landing site, but in the opposite direction.

From Yellowknife Bay to the base of Mount Sharp, Curiosity drove more than 5 miles (8 kilometers) in about 15 months, with pauses at a few science waypoints. The emphasis in mission operations has now changed from drive, drive, drive to systematic layer-by-layer investigation.

Jennifer Trosper of JPL is Curiosity Deputy Project Manager. She saud:

We’re putting on the brakes to study this amazing mountain.Curiosity flew hundreds of millions of miles to do this.

By investigating the shapes and chemical ingredients in the rock features, the team hopes to gain information about the possible composition of fluids at this Martian location long ago. Ashwin Vasavada of JPL is Curiosity Deputy Project Scientist. Vasavada said:

This drilling target is at the lowest part of the base layer of the mountain, and from here we plan to examine the higher, younger layers exposed in the nearby hills. This first look at rocks we believe to underlie Mount Sharp is exciting because it will begin to form a picture of the environment at the time the mountain formed, and what led to its growth.

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