NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has completed drilling of its sandstone rock target, dubbed “Windjana,” zapped the hole with its laser and collected samples for analysis. While NASA scientists eagerly await the results, the Curiosity rover will continue on its trek towards its next major destination, Mount Sharp.
According to NASA, the sandstone samples collected by Curiosity are being analyzed by its onboard suite of instruments. Curiosity drilled the hole on May 5 and later used the rover’s Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) to analyze the exterior of the sandstone. The ChemCham instrument fires a laser that clears the Martian dust from a target while the spectrograph is used to determine the composition of dust and vaporized rock, notes NASA. After the hole was drilled, the ChemCam’s laser fired several shots inside the hole to analyze the interior’s composition.
Curiosity stopped at “the Kimberley,” a rock outcrop, as a scientific pit stop on its way towards Mount Sharp after detecting sandstones, a type of Martian rock yet to be analyzed by the rover. Curiosity has previously drilled two mudstone rocks at Yellowknife Bay which provided evidence of an ancient lake that could have supported microbial life. Windjana is the third Martian rock drilled by Curiosity and there are no plans to drill other rocks in the area.
Based on the initial drilling of the hole, due to the darker tailings, researchers believe the composition of the stone will be much different than what has been seen on Mars. Jim Bell of Arizona State University, Tempe, and deputy principal investigator for Curiosity's mast camera, said in a statement, "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!"
NASA has not set a specific date for Curiosity to head toward Mount Sharp, the rover is expected to continue its journey in the next few days. The rover started its five-mile trip toward Mount Sharp in July 2013 from Gale Crater, Curiosity's landing site.