Scientists working with NASA's Curiosity Mars robot were delighted to explore an area called the "clay-laden unit" before launching the probe. Now the rover has finally tasted his first sample of this part of Mount Sharp. Curiosity drilled a piece of bedrock nicknamed "Aberlady" on Saturday, April 6 (2 370th Martian Day, or Mission Ground) and handed the sample to its internal mineralogy lab on Wednesday, April 10 (2374) .
The rover's exercise easily bit into the rock, unlike some of the toughest targets he faced on Vera Rubin Ridge. In fact, it was so gentle that the drill did not need to resort to its percussion technique, which is useful for hooking harder rock samples. This was the first sample of the mission obtained using only the rotation of the trephine.
"Curiosity has been on the road for almost seven years," said Jim Erickson, Curiosity Project Manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "Finally, drilling at the clay unit is an important step in our journey to Mount Sharp."
Scientists want to analyze the sample for traces of clay minerals because they usually form in the water. NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spotted here an alarm signal well before Curiosity landed in 2012. Identifying the source of this signal could help the science team understand if a Martian era more Wet was shaping this layer of Mount Sharp, the -Tall (5km high) Mountain Curiosity was climbing.
Curiosity has discovered clay minerals in mudstones throughout its course. These mudstones formed when river sediments settled in ancient lakes about 3.5 billion years ago. As with water elsewhere on Mars, the lakes finally dried up.
The clay tag seen from the space brought the rover here, but the area clearly has several other stories to tell. Now that Curiosity is exploring this area, scientists can observe as geological tourists and find a landscape both old and new. There are several types of bedrock and sand, including active sand wrinkles that have changed over the past year. The pebbles are scattered everywhere. Do they erode local bedrock? Several notable sites, such as "Knockfarril Hill", are also notable.
"Every layer of this mountain is a puzzle," said Curiosity project scientist Ashwin Vasavada of JPL. "They each hold clues to a different era of Martian history.We are looking forward to seeing what this first sample tells us about the old environment, especially the water."
The Aberlady sample will give the team a starting point for thinking about the unit containing clay. They plan to drill several times over the next year. This will help them understand what differentiates this region from the ridge behind and from an area where the sulphate signal is present higher up the mountain.
For more information on Curiosity, visit: https://mars.nasa.gov/msl/
More information on Mars is available at: https://mars.nasa.gov/
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California