[meteorite-list] Curiosity Rover Drill Pulls First Taste From Mars Mountain

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu, 25 Sep 2014 22:17:05 -0700 (PDT)
Message-ID: <201409260517.s8Q5H5kZ029704_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


NASA Rover Drill Pulls First Taste From Mars Mountain
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
September 25, 2014

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, Sept. 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 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," said Curiosity Deputy Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada
of JPL. "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."

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 an area much closer to the landing site, but in the opposite
direction. The mission accomplished its science goals in that Yellowknife
Bay area. Analysis of drilled rocks there disclosed an ancient lakebed
environment that, more than three billion years ago, offered ingredients
and a chemical energy gradient favorable for microbes, if any existed

>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.

"We're putting on the brakes to study this amazing mountain," said Curiosity
Deputy Project Manager Jennifer Trosper of JPL. "Curiosity flew hundreds
of millions of miles to do this."

Curiosity arrived Sept. 19 at an outcrop called "Pahrump Hills," which
is a section of the mountain's basal geological unit, called the Murray
formation. Three days later, the rover completed a "mini-drill" procedure
at the selected drilling target, "Confidence Hills," to assess the target
rock's suitability for drilling. A mini-drill activity last month determined
that a rock slab under consideration then was not stable enough for full
drilling, but Confidence Hills passed this test.

The rock is softer than any of the previous three targets where Curiosity
has collected a drilled sample for analysis.

Between the mini-drill test and the sample-collection drilling, researchers
used tools on Curiosity's mast and robotic arm for close-up inspection
of geometrically distinctive features on the nearby surface of the rock.

These features on the Murray formation mudstones are the accumulations
of resistant materials. They occur both as discrete clusters and as dendrites,
where forms are arranged in tree-like branching. By investigating the
shapes and chemical ingredients in these features, the team hopes to gain
information about the possible composition of fluids at this Martian location
long ago.

The next step will be to deliver the rock-powder sample into a scoop on
the rover's arm. In the open scoop, the powder's texture can be observed
for an assessment of whether it is safe for further sieving, portioning
and delivery into Curiosity's internal laboratory instruments without
clogging hardware. The instruments can perform many types of analysis
to identify chemistry and mineralogy of the source rock.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity to assess ancient
habitable environments and major changes in Martian environmental conditions.
JPL, a division of Caltech, built the rover and manages the project for
NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about Curiosity, visit:


http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/

You can follow the mission on Facebook at:


and on Twitter at:


Guy Webster
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
guy.webster at jpl.nasa.gov

Received on Fri 26 Sep 2014 01:17:05 AM PDT

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