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Curiosity s scoop mark in the dune at Rocknest. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS Curiosity's scoop mark in the dune at Rocknest. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

First X-ray diffraction of Martian soil

Sen— The first results from Curiosity's taste of Martian soil show the mineralogy of Martian soil is similar to the weathered basaltic soils of volcanic origin in Hawaii.

Curiosity ingested the small sample of Martian soil on October 19. The rover used the scoop on its robotic arm at a sandy dune called Rocknest to collect the sample for analysis by its Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin). The sample taken was processed through a sieve leaving only very fine sand and dust - nothing larger than the width of a human hair - for analysis.

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. Each mineral records the conditions under which it formed so examining Martain soil will enable scientists to understand better the past environment on Mars.

David Bish, CheMin co-investigator, said: "So far, the materials Curiosity has analyzed are consistent with our initial ideas of the deposits in Gale Crater recording a transition through time from a wet to dry environment. The ancient rocks, such as the conglomerates, suggest flowing water, while the minerals in the younger soil are consistent with limited interaction with water."

The soil analysed was found to be mineralogically similar to basaltic material, with significant amounts of feldspar, pyroxene and olivine.

Results of the first analysis of Martian soil by the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) experiment on NASA

Results of the first analysis of Martian soil by the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) experiment on NASA's Curiosity rover. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ames

Curiosity - whose full name is 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.

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