NASA image from Mars Curiosity's Mast Camera of a rock known as "Jake Matijevic" (Photo : Reuters)
One small sample of Mars, one giant leap for NASA's exploration.
NASA's Martian rover Curiosity took its first sampling of Martian soil Thursday, NASA announced.
The sample was determined to be suitable to drop off at the CheMin instrument, an onboard analytical tool which uses X-ray technology to image the sample and determine what sorts of minerals compose the dirt.
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After receiving word that the sample was accepted by the CheMin tool, engineers are expecting the detailed results of what makes up Martian soil as early as next week.
The sampling was delayed due to the discovery of brightly colored specks found in the dirt. And while seemingly minute from a glance, the reality is that the analysis is a huge milestone in the $2.6 billion mission in the discovery of Mars.
"The most important thing about our mobile laboratory is that it eats dirt - that's what we live on," chief scientist John Grotzinger told the BBC.
The Curiosity rover landed on the Gale Crater, a large depression on the equator of the "Red Planet"on Aug. 6; the size of the grains in the sample, roughly a tenth of a millimeter in diameter, were the lightest and finest material the rover was able to scoop up in order to analyze what makes up Martian soil.
"The science team started ... calling them 'schmutz,'" Grotzinger, with the California Institute of Technology, told reporters in a conference call, as reported the Chicago Tribune.
While there is a chance that the flecks are merely debris from the rover, most of the team believes this could be evidence of something naturally occurring, such as a mineral that fractured by the rover scoop.
However, scientists had Curiosity dump the sample and collect sand from another site for processing in the onboard laboratory for processing.
The goal is to get figure out exactly what elements make up the soil on the fourth planet from the sun.
"We got to believing there were things around us and began to look at everything through that lens," said mission manager Richard Cook, with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, as the Tribune reported.
Video of the Curiosity rover can be seen here on the YouTube page of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology: