NASA’s Curiosity Rover Drills Deep into 3rd Martian Rock for Sampling Analysis

by Ken Kremer on May 6, 2014

Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter

Composite photo mosaic shows deployment of NASA Curiosity rovers robotic arm and two holes after drilling into ‘Windjana’ sandstone rock on May 5, 2014, Sol 621, at Mount Remarkable as missions third drill target for sample analysis by rover’s chemistry labs.  The navcam raw images were stitched together from several Martian days up to Sol 621, May 5, 2014 and colorized.   Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

Composite photo mosaic shows deployment of NASA Curiosity rovers robotic arm and two holes after drilling into ‘Windjana’ sandstone rock on May 5, 2014, Sol 621, at Mount Remarkable as missions third drill target for sample analysis by rover’s chemistry labs. The navcam raw images were stitched together from several Martian days up to Sol 621, May 5, 2014 and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo
See additional Curiosity mosaics below-See our APOD featured on May 7, 2014

After a rather satisfying test bore into a sandstone slab at “Kimberley” just last week, NASA’s rover Curiosity decided to go all the way for a deep drill excursion into the Red Planet rock target called “Windjana” and successfully collected powdery samples from the interior on Monday evening, May 5, Sol 621, that the rover will soon consume inside her belly for high tech compositional analysis with her state-of-the-art science instruments.

NASA reported the great news today, Tuesday, May 6, soon after receiving confirmation of the successful acquisition effort by the hammering drill, located at the terminus of the 1 ton robots 7-foot-long (2 meter) arm.

At long last its “Drill, Baby, Drill” time on Mars.

The “Kimberley Waypoint” drill campaign into “Windjana” at the Mount Remarkable butte thus marks only the third Martian rock bored for sampling analysis by the SUV sized rover. This also counts as a new type of Mars rock – identified as sandstone, compared to the pair of mudstone rocks bored into last year.

This May 5, 2014, image (Sol 621) from the Navigation Camera on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows two holes at top center drilled into a sandstone target called "Windjana." The farther hole was created by the rover's drill while it collected rock-powder sample material from the interior of the rock that will be fed to the rovers chemistry labs for analysis.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This May 5, 2014, image (Sol 621) from the Navigation Camera on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows two holes at top center drilled into a sandstone target called “Windjana.” The farther hole was created by the rover’s drill while it collected rock-powder sample material from the interior of the rock that will be fed to the rovers chemistry labs for analysis. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The fresh hole in “Windjana” created on Monday night was clearly visible in images received this afternoon and showed it was 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter and about 2.6 inches (6.5 centimeters) deep.

The operation went exactly as planned and left behind a residual pile of drill tailings much darker in color compared to the ubiquitous red color seen covering most of Mars surface.

The new full-depth hole is very close in proximity to the shallower “Mini-drill” test hole operation carried out on April 29 at Windjama to determine if this site met the science requirements for sampling analysis and delivery to the two onboard, miniaturized chemistry labs – SAM and CheMin.

“Windjana” is named after a gorge in Western Australia.

Curiosity’s Panoramic view of Mount Remarkable at ‘The Kimberley Waypoint’ where rover will conduct 3rd drilling campaign inside Gale Crater on Mars.  The navcam raw images were taken on Sol 603, April 17, 2014, stitched and colorized.   Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

Curiosity’s Panoramic view of Mount Remarkable at ‘The Kimberley Waypoint’ where rover will conduct 3rd drilling campaign inside Gale Crater on Mars. The navcam raw images were taken on Sol 603, April 17, 2014, stitched and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo
Featured on APOD – Astronomy Picture of the Day on May 7, 2014

“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!”

In coming days, the sample will be pulverized and sieved prior to delivery to the Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin) and the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument (SAM) for chemical and compositional analysis.

Windjana is an outcrop of sandstone located at the base of a Martian butte named Mount Remarkable at “The “Kimberley Waypoint” – a science stopping point reached by the rover in early April 2014 halfway along its epic trek to towering Mount Sharp, the primary destination of the mission.

See herein our illustrative photo mosaics of the Kimberly Waypoint region assembled by the image processing team of Marco Di Lorenzo and Ken Kremer.

Multisol composite photo mosaic shows deployment of Curiosity’s rovers robotic arm and APXS X-ray spectrometer onto the ‘Winjana’ rock target at Mount Remarkable for evaluation as missions third drill target inside Gale Crater on Mars.  The colorized navcam raw images were stitched together from several Martian days up to Sol 612, April 26, 2014.   Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

Multisol composite photo mosaic shows deployment of Curiosity’s rovers robotic arm and APXS X-ray spectrometer onto the ‘Winjana’ rock target at Mount Remarkable for evaluation as missions third drill target inside Gale Crater on Mars. The colorized navcam raw images were stitched together from several Martian days up to Sol 612, April 26, 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

The first two drill campaigns conducted during 2013 at ‘John Klein’ and ‘Cumberland’ inside Yellowknife Bay were on mudstone rock outcrops.

The science team chose Windjana for drilling “to analyze the cementing material that holds together sand-size grains in this sandstone,” says NASA.

The Kimberley Waypoint was selected because it has interesting, complex stratigraphy,” Curiosity Principal Investigator John Grotzinger, of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, told me.

Curiosity snaps selfie at Kimberley waypoint with towering Mount Sharp backdrop on April 27, 2014 (Sol 613). Inset shows MAHLI camera image of rovers mini-drill test operation on April 29, 2014 (Sol 615) into “Windjama” rock target at Mount Remarkable butte.  MAHLI color photo mosaic assembled from raw images snapped on Sol 613, April 27, 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com

Curiosity snaps selfie at Kimberley waypoint with towering Mount Sharp backdrop on April 27, 2014 (Sol 613). Inset shows MAHLI camera image of rovers mini-drill test operation on April 29, 2014 (Sol 615) into “Windjana” rock target at Mount Remarkable butte. MAHLI color photo mosaic assembled from raw images snapped on Sol 613, April 27, 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Curiosity departed the ancient lakebed at the Yellowknife Bay region in July 2013 where she discovered a habitable zone with the key chemical elements and a chemical energy source that could have supported microbial life billions of years ago – and thereby accomplished the primary goal of the mission.

Windjama is about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) southwest of Yellowknife Bay.

Curiosity still has about another 4 kilometers to go to reach the base of Mount Sharp sometime later this year.

Martian landscape with rows of curved rock outcrops at ‘Kimberly’ in the foreground and spectacular Mount Sharp on the horizon. NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover pulled into Kimberly waypoint dominated by layered rock outcrops as likely drilling site.  This colorized navcam camera photomosaic was assembled from imagery taken on Sol 576 (Mar. 20, 2014).  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer-kenkremer.com

Martian landscape with rows of curved rock outcrops at ‘Kimberly’ in the foreground and spectacular Mount Sharp on the horizon. NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover pulled into Kimberly waypoint dominated by layered rock outcrops as likely drilling site. This colorized navcam camera photomosaic was assembled from imagery taken on Sol 576 (Mar. 20, 2014). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer-kenkremer.com

The sedimentary foothills of Mount Sharp, which reaches 3.4 miles (5.5 km) into the Martian sky, is the 1 ton robots ultimate destination inside Gale Crater because it holds caches of water altered minerals. Such minerals could possibly indicate locations that sustained potential Martian life forms, past or present, if they ever existed.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Curiosity, Opportunity, Chang’e-3, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, LADEE, MAVEN, MOM, Mars and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Curiosity scans scientifically intriguing rock outcrops of gorgeous Martian terrain at ‘The Kimberley’ waypoint in search of next drilling location beside Mount Remarkable butte, at right.  Mastcam color photo mosaic assembled from raw images snapped on Sol 590, April 4, 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com

Curiosity scans scientifically intriguing rock outcrops of gorgeous Martian terrain at ‘The Kimberley’ waypoint in search of next drilling location beside Mount Remarkable butte, at right. Mastcam color photo mosaic assembled from raw images snapped on Sol 590, April 4, 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

About 

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, scientist, freelance science journalist (Princeton, NJ) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calanders including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral and NASA Wallops on over 40 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - www.kenkremer.com. Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

InTheory May 6, 2014 at 11:59 PM

Is it just me, or has Curiosity been the least interesting rover we’ve put on Mars to date? 20 months, 3 holes and what?

Either NASA picked a bad spot or a far more capable science package needs to be sent.

Torbjorn Larsson OM May 7, 2014 at 4:56 AM

It’s not just you, the sentiment appears well spread.

It is quite erroneous IMO, ill informed and made from previously unstated desires and wants. (Which, I’ll add, is a good festering ground for restlessness.) Curiosity beat Opportunity to a habitable environment despite the latter being on the road 20 times longer, it found conclusive and close up flowing water remnants and characterized the flows, it found mudstones, and while it is not conclusive the organic residues reported lately are hard to predict from either terrestrial contaminants or impact generation.

Do we wish science could proceed faster? Always.

But aside from perhaps unrealistic expectations, so far Curiosity has been successful beyond anybody’s dreams (except the predictable naysayers), wrapping up its main science targets in a record speed of 1/2 year vs the minimum 2 year mission target, and has found more surprises than earlier rovers.

Go C!

Jeffrey Boerst May 7, 2014 at 7:23 AM

They have already achieved the mission’s main science goal at the 1st drill… They’re main objective is the mountain still at a good distance at which they HAD thought they’d need to get to before they found their objective past neutral Ph water for a time habitat data. All this current time WAS originally planned just to slowly move it there (to the mountain) as speed is not an option millions of miles of remote control distance away, drilling at the random interesting looking spots as they approached and THEN once at the mountain (still in the distance) they planned to try and get the data THEY ALREADY DID. This mission is already a smashing success and the rest of the next decade or more of it’s roving will be all gravy. I suggest in future paying attention to the entire story before criticizing it….

PrometheusOnTheLoose May 7, 2014 at 11:58 AM

I’d really like to see them put one of these type rovers on the Moon. It’s kind of stupid to have one on Mars, but not one on the Moon.

Karel VII May 7, 2014 at 9:20 AM

Don’t come up sandstone only in seas, so more precisely in water’s solution salts calcium?

SteveZodiac May 8, 2014 at 5:06 AM

Sad to see the death of Prof. Colin Pillinger today who missed out on a UK Mars lander.

Aqua4U May 8, 2014 at 12:04 PM

Once again, thanks Ken for the great coverage on this fascinating mission!

Ahem.. the use of the phrase, “Drill Baby drill!”, although now part of our culture, has become a rather tired euphemism. It brings back memories of Sarah Palan’s approach, i.e. tossing care to the wind and doing whatever it takes to satisfy our country’s energy requirements. She used this phrase as she wanted to despoil ANWR to get at possible oil deposits and thereby potentially ruining one of the last pristine arctic environments. Not unlike ‘fracking’, which has been shown to pollute ground waters and cause irreparable damages to the environment, drilling for oil in the arctic is beyond stupidity… there’s NO WAY it can be done without degradation to that fragile landscape and fauna. The phrase should be retired and relegated to history.

Davies May 10, 2014 at 2:43 PM

Though Mars looks bare and lifeless, it is a beautiful planet, I would like to know if it rains in Mars? Some time back you wrote that they found water but you never talked about rain.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: