New Curiosity self portrait especially shows the alien terrain of Yellowknife Bay on Mars now 216 million mi. from Earth.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Motion sequence for the drilling of the subsurface rock sample shows the 7.5 ft. robotic arm move the instrument turret into position for drilling underway as shadow moves to right, then turret rotates its Mars Hand Lens Imager for close-ups. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Rover Mastcam imaged the primary and mini test drill holes on Mars and the talus with a greenish gray tint.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Graphic shows the complexity of the CHIMRA device on instrument turret used to robotically filter and flow soil along proper paths as the arm tilts the unit to align specific areas of the CHIMRA with the Martian gravity vector.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

CheMin diagram shows green sample cells paired on the ends of tuning forks that shake sample for analysis by X-ray beam. Red cells are filled with different calibration materials. Credit: NASA/Ames

Exploded diagram of CheMin illustrates how the X-ray Diffraction instrument is integrated. Credit: NASA/AMES

CuriousMars: Scientists disagree on timing of departure from drilling site

By Craig Covault
Posted February 14, 2013 1:43 PM

The $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover is beginning detailed analysis of the first subsurface rock sample acquired on another planet, keeping researchers on “pins and needles” about whether Curiosity has struck Martian paydirt 216 million miles (348 million km) from Earth.

Preliminary examination of the greenish, mudstone-like sample is peaking interest and debate about whether the flat rocks under Curiosity’s wheels could be a type that perhaps preserved organic carbon relevant to potential past life on Mars, JPL geologist Robert C. Anderson told CuriousMars.

But nobody will know the answer to that question until Curiosity completes its chemical and mineralogical analysis just getting underway with the CheMin and SAM instruments, said Anderson, a member of the MSL Surface Sampling System (SSS) team that weighs both science and engineering factors to advise the Science Team.

The analysis is by far the most significant scientific investigation carried out by the rover since its landing last August. “Everybody is holding their breath to see what the sample is,” he said.

The first instrument to process a portion of the sample will be the NASA Ames Research Center’s CheMin Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument, which will identify and measure the abundances of various minerals in the rock powder.

“This stuff we drilled is new material to us,” said David Blake, CheMin Principal Investigator. “We are all sitting on pins and needles about what it is,” he told CuriousMars.

Read more: CuriousMars: Scientists disagree on timing of departure from drilling site – SpaceRef.

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