NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover drilled a test hole in its latest rock target, called Mojave, which could reveal a bit more about the Red Planet’s composition.
The agency released an image that shows the grayish rock chips that came from the drill hole and slid across the rock due to vibration.
“It’s rare for us to look at fresh broken-up rock that’s not covered with dust. We are going to learn something unique by studying those,” Dr. Ashwin R. Vasavada, project scientist for Curiosity, said in an interview with Yahoo News. “It may not be as exposed to the environment as the surface of the rock has been.”
Mojave is a part of Pahrump Hills, which is a foothill of the three-mile-high Mount Sharp.
Two months ago, the rover found tiny mineral crystals that scientists think might have been left over after an ancient lake evaporated.
“This hypothesis is based on studying several rock outcrops on our way to the mountain,” Vasavada said. “These crystals might have formed when the lake was shallow and salty.”
Curiosity was performing a “mini-drill” with a drill bit that is just 1.6 cm across, about the size of a dime.
Scientists wanted to see whether the rock is suitable for deeper drilling to collect samples for laboratory analysis.
“The freshly broken-up rock is interesting because, when we look at those chips up close, we will see if those small crystals are present throughout the rock,” he said.
So far, Curiosity went up the foothill three times: (1) to take lots of pictures, (2) to study the rocks up close and (3) to drill.
“For the third pass, we are choosing just a few spots to collect and analyze in our lab,” he said.
Early next week, science operations will pause for a week during the installation of a new version of the rover’s flight software. This could happen before the drilling and sample delivery is completed.