Seeker Archives

Curiosity Drills Hole Into Mars Rock: Pictures

NASA's Mars Curiosity rover tested its rock drill for the first time this week, clearing the way for a detailed chemical analysis of what appears to be water-deposited minerals in a rock at Gale Crater.

NASA's Mars Curiosity rover tested its rock drill for the first time this week, clearing the way for a detailed chemical analysis of what appears to be water-deposited minerals in a rock at Gale Crater.

Curiosity's two-year mission, aimed at determining if the planet most like Earth in the solar system could have supported microbial life, began in August, when the rover landed itself inside the 93-mile wide impact crater.

Continue browsing this gallery for more images from Curiosity's drill test.

The basin sports a mound of layered sediment, called Mount Sharp, which rises three miles above the crater floor Curiosity is expected to head over to the mound later this year. In the meantime, it is exploring a site about a quarter of a mile away from where it touched down on Aug. 6. The region, known as Yellowknife Bay, interests scientists because it has three different types of terrain and geologic features that appear to have been formed by running water.

Scientists want to use the drill to get samples from inside a veined rock, which looks like it holds mineral deposits from flowing water.

"What these vein fills tell us is water percolated through these rocks, through these fracture networks and then minerals precipitated to form the white material ... (which) is very likely a calcium sulfate, probably hydrated in origin," Curiosity lead scientist John Grotzinger said during a conference call with reporters last month.

The rover used its drill to cut a .8-inch hole into a rock named "John Klein," then relayed pictures of its work back to flight controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The drill has two modes of operating -- hammering and rotating -- and Curiosity tested both motions.

The drill can bore rocks to depths of about two inches. As it drills, powered rock shavings can be passed into instruments for chemical analysis.

Sample Analysis at Mars experiment, or SAM, uses a gas chromatograph and two spectrometers to look elements of organic compounds. The Chemistry and Mineralogy, or CheMin, identifies minerals with a technique called X-ray diffraction.

The drill is the last of Curiosity's 10 science instruments to be tested.

"If the drill cuttings on the ground around the fresh hole pass visual evaluation as suitable for processing by the rover's sample handling mechanisms, the rover team plans to proceed with commanding the first full drilling in coming days," NASA said in a statement.