The drive by Mars rover Curiosity during the mission's 43rd Martian day, or sol, (September 19, 2012) ended with this rock about 8 feet (2.5 meters) in front of the rover in this NASA handout image. The rock is about 10 inches (25 centimeters) tall and 16 inches (40 centimeters) wide. The rover team has assessed it as a suitable target for the first use of Curiosity's contact instruments on a rock. (Photo : Reuters/NASA Handout)
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has come upon its first contact assignment this week when it came across a pyramid-shaped rock on its 43rd Martian day or Sol, NBC News reported. The rock, which be the first to be touched by the rover, has been named in honor of an engineer who worked on all of NASA's rover missions but passed away days after Curiosity landed on the Red Planet.
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According to NBC News, the rock, named "Jake Matijevic," will be the primary focus of the rover's mission on Mars. The rock, which measures 10 inches tall and 16 inches wide resembles a small pyramid based on a photo sent back to Earth.
Similar to the first Martian rock examined eight and a half years ago my NASA's Spirit rover, Jake is made of basalt and will be analyzed by Curiosity's Alpha Proton X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and the laser-zapping ChemCam analyzer.
John Grotzinger, project scientist for the Curiosity mission, told NBC News that the readings from both machines will be able to prove that the ChemCam is consistent to the APXS. According to NBC, Grotzinger said it is an opportunity to compare "something which is tried and true with the latest and greatest technology.
According to the scientist, testing could start on Friday, which on Mars is the day (sol) after tomorrow. NBC News reported that the task could span a couple of sols, which will involve Curiosity to reach out with its 7-foot-long robotic arm in order to use the APXS and the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). Curiosity will also be tasked with zapping the rock with ChemCam's laser, which will be used to analyze the rock's internal composition.
Curiosity landed on Mars on August 5 and is scheduled to spend at least two years analyzing the planet's geology and surface chemistry, as well as finding out if the planet may have been habitable in the past.
The rover's next task is reaching an area known as Glenelg. Since landing, Curiosity has travelled more than half of the quarter-mile distance to Glenelg. Once there, the six-wheeled rover will analyze the three geological formations found there. According to Grotzinger, Curiosity is expected to reach Glenelg within the next couple of weeks.