Another milestone: NASA Mars Rover Curiosity drills into second Martian rock


    In yet another milestone of great significance NASA Mars Rover Curiosity drills into second Martian rock

    Three months after NASA’s ambitious rover Curiosity had dug a hole on the red planet, it has gone ahead yet again and this time drilled a hole 2.6 inches deep and about 0.6 inches in diameter in a rock called Cumberland.

    The new rock christened ‘Cumberland’ is situated in the Yellowknife Bay depression that is presently being studied by the six-wheeled robot has been studying. Three months ago, Curiosity bored into a similar rock called ‘John Klein’, situated around 9 feet (2.75 meters) away.

    Back home, the scientists at NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory are making arrangements for getting the recent sample of the crushed material to laboratory instruments on board the rover. By taking a second sample from a rock with similar features as John Klein, mission scientists aim to cross-check the chemical analysis of both locations to ascertain whether the outcomes are similar or not.

    It may be recalled that the analysis of the first sample collected by Curiosity from ‘John Klein’ rock had suggested that the area once had the environmental conditions favourable to support microbial life. The data had widely supported the suggestion that Gale Crater was once wet and minerals formed in the presence of water.

    It is pertinent to mention here that even though rover is incapable of directly detecting the evidence of past or present life on Mars, it has presumed that the ancient wet environment wasn’t too acidic or briny, factors that are considered to be microbe-friendly. It was also able to understand the chemical composition of the ancient rock that contained sulphur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon, the key ingredients that support.

    In the recent turn of events, after being processed, the collected sample would be be moved to its Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) device. Within the CHIMRA, the rock samples are sieved to separate the portions of the sample into different sizes. After that process, the sample will be delivered to two different pieces of equipment on Curiosity: the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument and the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument.

    CheMin will X-ray the rock samples to determine its atomic structure. That structure gives scientists a clue as to how the crystals within the rock were formed. SAM is used examine the samples for chemicals that may show it was possible for life to exist on the Martian surface. In fact it was SAM that proved the existence of key ingredients supporting life from the John Klein rock sample.

    However, it would be one more drilling task for the over before moving over to the base of Mount Sharp, a gigantic mountain in Mars’ Gale Crater, which is a month long trek from the present position.

    Curiosity’s next stop Mount Sharp rises about 18,000 feet from the bottom of the Gale Crater to its peak, which is about the same height as Mt. McKinley in Alaska and taller than Mount Everest, which is about 15,000 feet from base to peak.