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Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Mars Soil Sample Delivered for Analysis Inside Rover
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.
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
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.
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
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
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."