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NASA's Curiosity Drills Martian Rock 'Windjana', Obtains Samples

May 07, 2014 09:15 AM EDT
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This image from the Navigation Camera (Navcam) on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows two holes at top center drilled into a sandstone target called "Windjana." The farther hole, with larger pile of tailings around it, is a full-depth sampling hole. It was created by the rover's hammering drill while the drill collected rock-powder sample material from the interior of the rock.
(Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltech )

NASA's Curiosity rover has successfully completed a third drilling on a Martian rock and has obtained samples. 

If all goes as planned, the powdered samples from the rock named Windjana will be sent into the rover's onboard scientific instruments. Researchers hope to use the samples to understand about the geology of the Red Planet.

The drill was done Monday and the hole in the Windjana rock is 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter and about 2.6 inches (6.5 centimeters) deep, a news release from Jet Propulsion Laboratory said.

Samples from Windjana will be crushed and sent to onboard instruments; the Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin) and the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument (SAM).

The research team chose to bore a hole into Windjana to study the material that binds the sandstone together, space.com reported.

This is the third such drill by Curiosity. Previously, it bored into mudstones at a site called Yellowknife Bay. The latest site is close to the spot where the rover landed in August 2012, according to space.com. Analysis of rock samples obtained then showed that the Bay once had a lake environment, which could have supported life.

The newly drilled hole in the sandstone is considerably deeper than the small test hole that the rover had drilled on the same rock last week.

"The drill tailings from this rock are darker-toned and less red than we saw at the two previous drill sites," said Jim Bell of Arizona State University, Tempe, deputy principal investigator for Curiosity's Mast Camera (Mastcam). "This suggests that the detailed chemical and mineral analysis that will be coming from Curiosity's other instruments could reveal different materials than we've seen before. We can't wait to find out!"

Curiosity rover is currently at a waypoint called "The Kimberley," which is around 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) southwest of Yellowknife Bay. The site is located on the route to Mount Sharp, which is the next destination for the rover.

Analysis of the sample might continue during Curiosity's drive from Kimberly to Mount Sharp, JPL said.

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