Martian Landscape Dazzles as Curiosity Prepares to Drill Rock Samples
In mid-January NASA's Mars rover Curiosity drove toward a flat rock with pale veins that may hold clues to a wet geological history on the Red Planet. If the rock meets rover engineers' approval, it will become the first to be drilled for a sample during the Mars Science Laboratory mission. Curiosity is inside Mars' Gale Crater investigating whether the planet ever offered an environment favorable for microbial life. Curiosity landed in the crater five months ago to begin its two-year prime mission. Curiosity first will gather powdered samples from inside the rock and use those to scrub the drill. Then the rover will drill and capture more samples from this rock, which it will analyze for information about its mineral and chemical composition. Researchers have used the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) to examine sedimentary rocks in the area. Some are sandstone, with grains up to about peppercorn size. One grain has an interesting gleam and bud-like shape that have brought it Internet buzz as a "Martian flower." Other rocks nearby are siltstone, with grains finer than powdered sugar, which differ from pebbly conglomerate rocks in the landing area.