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NASA Scientists Select New Drilling Site For Curiosity In Hopes Of Verifying Previous Discoveries

May 10, 2013 01:01 PM EDT
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NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is back in commission and this time with plans to begin drilling soon on a patch of bedrock called “Cumberland.”

According to a NASA press release, the spot was selected as the second target for drilling by the rover that boasts the capability to collect powdered material from inside the target rock and analyze it with laboratory instruments.

The new site has big shoes to fill: the first drilling target, an area named “John Klein,” provided evidence for an ancient freshwater environment as well as the necessary elemental ingredients and energy source for microbial life.

Like John Klein, Cumberland is a patch of flat-lying rock with pale veins and nodules and is located on a shallow depression called Yellowknife Bay. Based on these similarities, NASA scientists hope that the Cumberland dig will confirm the discoveries made at John Klein.

According to officials, once Curiosity has completed this task, it will likely begin the 5-mile trek to the base of Mount Sharp, Mars’ mysterious mountain that reaches 3.4 miles high from the center of Gale Crater.

The mountain’s foothills have always been the rover’s ultimate science destination where scientists plan on analyzing the apparent signs of long-ago exposure to liquid water in what the Mars Science Laboratory calls the “follow the water” strategy

Furthermore, researchers suspect that in sending Curiosity up the side of Mount Sharp, they will get a look into the history of the planet’s environmental history, according to Space.com.

Ultimately, the rover’s overarching science goal is to assess whether the landing area, that of Gale Crater, has ever had or still has environmental conditions favorable to microbial life, including its habitability and preservation.

The total cost of the mission is $2.5 billion, according to NASA, including $1.8 billion for development and science investigations as well as additional amounts for launch and operations.

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