(Sen) - NASA's Mars rover Curiosity, which has been scooping up Martian soil, has ingested a small sample to analyse what minerals it contains.
Minerals capture details of their environment as they form, so the Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument, or CheMin, can evaluate the environmental history of Mars. It will do this by looking at the temperature, pressure, and chemistry of minerals. CheMin measures how X-rays are diffracted, or scattered, from a sample which is used to identify the elements present. Curiosity is the first Mars rover to use an X-ray diffraction instrument.
John Grotzinger, Curiosity's project scientist, said: "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 being analysed is from the third scoop of soil taken by Curiosity. The rover has been using the scoop on its robotic arm at a sandy dune called Rocknest. The rover's robotic arm delivered the sample to CheMin's opened inlet funnel on the rover's deck on October 17. The CheMin analysis will be released in due course.
The robotic arm of Curiosity delivers a sample of Martian soil to the rover's observation tray. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Curiosity scooped up its first sample on October 7 but noticed a bright piece of material left in the dig site. The object, about 1.3cm long, turned out to be debris from the rover. On October 12 the rover took its second scoop. Images taken after the scooping showed lighter coloured material in the dig site. Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, after reviewing the images, believe the brighter coloured material to be indigenous to Mars. Further studies will be made of the material.
The rover discarded it second scoop and proceeded to dig for a third time on October 17.
Three dig holes left by Curiosity's scoop, imaged by the right navigation camera. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Richard Cook, Curiosity project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said: "We plan to learn more both about the spacecraft material and about the smaller, bright particle. 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."
Curiosity - more formally known as the Mars Science Laboratory - has an initial two year mission (one Martian year) to find evidence if Gale Crater was ever suitable for microbial life. The rover has ten scientific instruments as its disposal.
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, also known as Curiosity, landed on Mars on August 6 (UTC). NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), based in Pasadena, California, a division of the California Institute of Technology, manages the Mars Science Laboratory mission for NASA.