Yesterday, on Sol 867 of its mission, Curiosity began drilling operations on a slab of bedrock at the base of Mount Sharp - but in so doing, the delicate target rock broke apart.
Although the slab might not be suitable for further drilling, mission scientists are excited by the opportunity to study the shattered rock left in Curiosity's wake.
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"The rock target Mojave that we drilled into yesterday is part of a larger expanse of fractured, soft bedrock at the Pahrump Hills site," Mars Science Laboratory's project scientist Ashwin Vasavada, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told Discovery News.
In September, Curiosity arrived at Pahrump Hills, a small foothill at the base of Mount Sharp in the center of Gale Crater, and the mission has been studying the area ever since, trying to understand how the 3.5 mile high mountain formed. To do this, the rover is making extensive use of its suite of robotic geologist's tools to drill into and chip away at the bountiful array of bedrock.
After cleaning the surface of the rock, which has been named "Mojave," it became clear that the rock contained crystallized mineral deposits that likely formed when Mars was a much wetter place. So to understand the nature of the deposits, mission managers gave the go-ahead to begin a test drill.
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However, rather than smoothly boring into the rock, Mojave shattered, an outcome that didn't surprise Vasavada's team.
"We've seen similar fractured bedrock before and even cracked it on previous drill attempts in other locations," he said. "So while we can't necessarily predict it in advance, it also wasn't terribly surprising to crack the rock and dislodge a few fragments of it."