Mars soil sample delivered for analysis inside rover

Oct 18, 2012
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 (Oct. 15, 2012). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

(Phys.org)—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 (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 Curiosity's project scientist, John Grotzinger of 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 under which they form."

The robotic arm on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity delivered a sample of Martian soil to the rover's observation tray for the first time during the mission's 70th Martian day, or sol (Oct. 16, 2012). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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 on Oct. 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 was also 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 Analysis at Mars investigation, which studies samples' chemistry.

This image shows part of the small pit or bite created when NASA's Mars rover Curiosity collected its second scoop of Martian soil at a sandy patch called "Rocknest." Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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 on Oct. 7. The rover team postponed use of the 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 on Oct. 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 Curiosity Project Manager Richard Cook of 's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena. "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 's 10 instruments to assess whether the study area has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

Explore further: Red moon at night; stargazer's delight

Related Stories

Curiosity preparing for second scoop

Oct 15, 2012

On Sol 65 (Oct. 11, 2012) of the Mars Science Laboratory mission, NASA's Mars rover Curiosity completed several activities in preparation for collecting its second scoop of soil. Like the first scoop, the ne ...

Recommended for you

Astronauts to reveal sobering data on asteroid impacts

8 hours ago

This Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22, three former NASA astronauts will present new evidence that our planet has experienced many more large-scale asteroid impacts over the past decade than previously thought… ...

Rosetta instrument commissioning continues

9 hours ago

We're now in week four of six dedicated to commissioning Rosetta's science instruments after the long hibernation period, with the majority now having completed at least a first initial switch on.

Astronaut salary

9 hours ago

Talk about a high-flying career! Being a government astronaut means you have the chance to go into space and take part in some neat projects—such as going on spacewalks, moving robotic arms and doing science ...

Red moon at night; stargazer's delight

Apr 16, 2014

Monday night's lunar eclipse proved just as delightful as expected to those able to view it. On the East Coast, cloudy skies may have gotten in the way, but at the National Science Foundation's National Optical ...

User comments : 7

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

hemitite
3.3 / 5 (7) Oct 18, 2012
My working hypothesis it that the small light colored object is actually a children's aspirin tablet.
gwrede
5 / 5 (2) Oct 19, 2012
The "sand" in the picture looks damp. Now, I don't actually believe it to be soaked with water, but it would be nice if some article explained what makes it look damp.
Claudius
3 / 5 (2) Oct 19, 2012
It will be interesting to see what the bits are made of. They can analyze them, can't they?
ValeriaT
5 / 5 (1) Oct 19, 2012
The "sand" in the picture looks damp. Now, I don't actually believe it to be soaked with water, but it would be nice if some article explained what makes it look damp.
Yep, I noticed it too. Maybe it's electrostatic effect.
BloodSpill
5 / 5 (1) Oct 19, 2012
With a crappy excuse for an atmosphere, would solar radiation cause more static attraction between sands on the surface of Mars?
I know dust from the Moon is famous for sticking to everything and getting everywhere. Is it an ionisation effect?
NotAsleep
5 / 5 (1) Oct 19, 2012
I think moon dust sticks more because it is (relatively) sharp from lack of weathering
EBENEZR
5 / 5 (1) Oct 19, 2012
I think moon dust sticks more because it is (relatively) sharp from lack of weathering


True, whereas Martian duststorms can envelope the planet and last a long time. Not saying this means there won't be any (as you say) "relatively" sharp particles, but it certainly suggests something else at play. I believe ice particles play a role (http://www.space....ky.html"]Mars Dirt Surprisingly Sticky - Space.com[/URL]), seeing how easily ice cubes stick to one's fingers.

More news stories

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

Hubble image: A cross-section of the universe

An image of a galaxy cluster taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope gives a remarkable cross-section of the Universe, showing objects at different distances and stages in cosmic history. They range ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Deadly human pathogen Cryptococcus fully sequenced

Within each strand of DNA lies the blueprint for building an organism, along with the keys to its evolution and survival. These genetic instructions can give valuable insight into why pathogens like Cryptococcus ne ...