Mars Curiosity Science Lab Begins 1st Analysis of Minerals
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October 19, 2012

Mars Curiosity Science Lab Begins 1st Analysis of Minerals

 

            Galecrater

 

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 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 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 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 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 on Oct. 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 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 NASA'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 Curiosity's 10 instruments to assess whether the study area has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

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).

The Daily Galaxy via JPL/NASA

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Comments

I could have saved them billions of dollars.... Yes most environmental conditions are favorable for various microbial life. There is most certainly microbial life on Mars.

Hey ihumanity, they should have sent you to Mars instead.

I am curious as to why we are investigating the properties of soil and debris so close to the crater? When the meteor hit it spewed out contents of the meteor all around the area they are analyzing. We don't know the origin of the strike and what may be mixed in the soil. I don't see the accuracy. Rod Gouin

All the planets have been struck by space debris since the origin of our solar system. enriching their surface with important amounts of minerals. The "accuracy" doesn't rely on how 'pure' and native the soil is.
They also, at the JPL wanted to study a crater area because these impacts help in "digging" out some materials and minerals that are found into deeper soil.

Ha I should hope Avatars do play a role in space exploration but not the sort you're thinking of. But I play Eve online so it is to be expected

Just google Eve Online Avatar and you'll see what I mean.

Why doesn't the team move the rover 150 ft or so away from contamination of the set-down engines. This should be their next priority.


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