Curiosity rover team selects second drilling target on Mars

May 09, 2013
This map shows the location of "Cumberland," the second rock-drilling target for NASA's Mars rover Curiosity, in relation to the rover's first drilling target, "John Klein," within the southwestern lobe of a shallow depression called "Yellowknife Bay." Cumberland, like John Klein, is a patch of flat-lying bedrock with pale veins and bumpy surface texture. The bumpiness is due to erosion-resistant nodules within the rock, which have been identified as concretions resulting from the action of mineral-laden water. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

( —The team operating NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has selected a second target rock for drilling and sampling. The rover will set course to the drilling location in coming days.

This second drilling target, called "Cumberland," lies about nine feet (2.75 meters) west of the rock where Curiosity's drill first touched Martian stone in February. Curiosity took the first rock sample ever collected on Mars from that rock, called "John Klein." The rover found evidence of an ancient environment favorable for . Both rocks are flat, with pale veins and a bumpy surface. They are embedded in a layer of rock on the floor of a shallow depression called "."

This second drilling is intended to confirm results from the first drilling, which indicated the chemistry of the first powdered sample from John Klein was much less oxidizing than that of a soil sample the rover scooped up before it began drilling.

"We know there is some cross-contamination from the previous sample each time," said Dawn Sumner, a long-term planner for Curiosity's science team at the University of California at Davis. "For the Cumberland sample, we expect to have most of that cross-contamination come from a similar rock, rather than from very different soil."

This patch of bedrock, called "Cumberland," has been selected as the second target for drilling by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity. The rover has the capability to collect powdered material from inside the target rock and analyze that powder with laboratory instruments. The favored location for drilling into Cumberland is in the lower right portion of the image.

Although Cumberland and John Klein are very similar, Cumberland appears to have more of the erosion-resistant that cause the surface bumps. The bumps are concretions, or clumps of minerals, which formed when water soaked the rock long ago. Analysis of a sample containing more material from these concretions could provide information about the variability within the rock layer that includes both John Klein and Cumberland.

Mission engineers at 's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., recently finished upgrading Curiosity's following a four-week break. The rover continued monitoring the during the break, but the team did not send any new commands because Mars and the sun were positioned in such a way the sun could have blocked or corrupted commands sent from Earth.

Curiosity is about nine months into a two-year prime mission since landing inside Gale Crater on Mars in August 2012. After the second rock drilling in Yellowknife Bay and a few other investigations nearby, the rover will drive toward the base of Mount Sharp, a 3-mile-tall (5-kilometers) layered mountain inside the crater.

Explore further: NASA's Curiosity Mars rover studies rock-layer contact zone

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3 / 5 (4) May 09, 2013
We've been there nine months and only drilled one rock!?! They are talking about drilling one only nine feet away? Why not just drill it, talk about results? Oh yeah, cross contamination between samples.... NASA is SO LAME! I thought JPL was cool, not so sure now! :(
5 / 5 (2) May 10, 2013
Wow, we really need a space race. The snail's pace of current space exploration is like watching paint dry. I'm a big fan, but, I mean, seriously? I'm an ardent supporter, but I've flat run out of talking points.
5 / 5 (1) May 10, 2013
Questions: Why no tool to spike and break rock or just to flip them over (like a geologist's hammer, maybe)? And how far might one get in a good geology grad school program continuing to publish photos with no scale reference? Just some snarky-Friday thoughts that I can't figure out.
1 / 5 (1) May 10, 2013
The slow detail work of science is of course hard to understand for outsiders.

But compare with an earth laboratory: here they finished the installation, calibration and characterization of the lab equipment since landing. That would take weeks in an ordinary lab, especially understanding the characteristics of the equipment during analysis.

Then they finally came to the drill and its lab equipment, the last part to "install", they had to wait for scientists to do a preliminary analysis before chosing the next target.

Then the unlucky timing of the 4 week communication gap as Mars passed behind the Sun.

Summing up, they have done excellent progress and it is clear, at least to the scientists, that they have learned a lot from earlier missions. This mission spews out science in comparison.

Now, NASA could certainly make this clearer. They could have an "odometer" for results, labeled in "Vikings" (the first martian labs).
1 / 5 (1) May 10, 2013
The other elephant in the room is that NASA are doing many concurrent missions. I'm interested in astrobiology, so can follow most of them, so see a lot of action every other week. _Much_ busier than a single Earth lab!

@Mayday: I see scale references...

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