NASA/JPL-Caltech (edit by Jason Major/LightsInTheDark.com)
NASA's rover Curiosity has begun drilling operations for the third time on Mars. Currently located at a geologically interesting location nicknamed "The Kimberley," the one-ton rover also took the opportunity to photograph itself and the surrounding landscape in some stunning Martian "selfies." In this scene, Curiosity appears to be leaning its "head" -- a suite of instruments including the Chemcam (the laser "eye") and Mastcam cameras -- to the side, capturing the 5 kilometer-high Aeolis Mons (a.k.a. "Mount Sharp") on the horizon. The self portrait has been stitched togetherby Discovery News' Jason Major
from a series of raw photographs (taken on sol 613, April 28, of the mission) by Curiosity's robotic arm-mounted Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) instrument.
NASA/JPL-Caltech (edit by Doug Ellison/JPL)
In this scene, Curiosity appears to be concentrating hard on a rock of interest -- dubbed "Windjana" by mission scientists after a gorge in Western Australia -- that it has cleaned with its robotic arm-mounted Dust Abrasion Tool. A grey circular patch can be seen on the otherwise rusty rock's surface where the tool has scrubbed away any surface dust ready for analysis and drilling. This beautiful selfie was createdby JPL's Doug Ellison
, after assembling a collection of photos from the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on sol 613 (April 28) of the mission. Curiosity's selfies not only produce some breathtaking scenes, they are also used by mission engineers to keep tabs on the condition of the rover the more time it is exposed to the harsh Martian environment.
Curiosity used its Mastcam to photograph this closeup of its Rock Abrasion Tool. The instrument spins the wire-bristle brush over rock surfaces to remove layers of dust that has accumulated.
After brushing, a grey circle of rock beneath the ruddy Mars dust is exposed for further analysis. In this photo by Curiosity's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), the texture of Mars dust is obvious and fine cracks or seams in "Windjana" can be seen. "In the brushed spot, we can see that the rock is fine-grained, its true color is much grayer than the surface dust, and some portions of the rock are harder than others, creating the interesting bumpy textures,"said Melissa Rice
, Curiosity science team member, of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. "All of these traits reinforce our interest in drilling here in order understand the chemistry of the fluids that bound these grains together to form the rock."
On April 29, Curiosity used its drill to bore a 2 centimeter hole into Windjana. This is only the third rock Curiosity has drilled into since landing on the red planet on Aug. 5, 2012. The grey color obviously extends deeper into the rock than just on its surface, and the powder created can provide a pristine rock sample for further analysis, helping mission scientists understand how the rock formed and under what environmental conditions.
The first two drilled rocks were located in Yellowknife Bay, approximately 4 kilometers from The Kimberley. Those rocks were determined to be mudstone slabs formed through water action and sediment, providing compelling evidence that the interior of Gale Crater used to play host to a lakebed and may have provided a habitable environment for ancient microbial life. This new drilling operation will provide more clues as to how rock formed in the region, revealing more tantalizing clues as to the past habitability of the red planet.
As Mars rover Curiosity looks to line up its fourth drilling target, it needed to give a rock a bit of a scrub.
This photo beamed back from Mars on Aug. 17 (sol 722 of the mission) shows the circular scrub marks created by the rover’s robotic arm-mounted Dust Removal Tool — a metal brush used to remove surface dust from rocks in preparation for drilling and sampling. Cleaning a patch around 2.5 inches wide, mission scientists are deciding whether this rock — dubbed “Bonanza King” — should now be drilled into and sampled by Curiosity’s on-board chemistry lab.
As can be seen in the image snapped by Curiosity’s Mastcam, after the ruddy oxidized dust is removed from the rock (to avoid contaminating any drilled samples taken from the pristine rock’s interior), a dark grey surface is exposed. In this particular area, a couple of lighter veins of a mineral (possibly sulfate salts) can be seen intersecting the brushed area.
In addition to the brush work, Curiosity also zapped Bonanza King with its ChemCam laser to take remote measurements of the minerals on the surface. Five tiny burn marks from the laser analysis is to the left of the brushed area.
Bonanza King is located on a ramp rising from the northeastern end of “Hidden Valley,” which is on the route to Curiosity’s ultimate destination, the slopes of Mount Sharp.
The pale rocks in the foreground of this fisheye image from NASA's Curiosity Mars rover's Hazcam include the "Bonanza King" target under consideration to become the fourth rock drilled by the Mars Science Laboratory mission.NASA/JPL-Caltrech