This image of an outcrop at the "Sheepbed" locality, taken by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover with its right Mast Camera (Mastcam), shows show well-defined veins filled with whitish minerals, interpreted as calcium sulfate. (Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS )
NASA's Mars Curiosity rover is now headed towards a region of Gale crater known as Yellowknife Bay, allegedly the home of calcium sulfate which may have been scarred by water flow in the past. At the Bay, the rover will gather its first drilling sample, according to a recent press release.
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Richard Cook of NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab suggests that "Drilling into a rock to collect a sample will be this mission's most challenging activity since the landing. It has never been done before on Mars. The drill hardware interacts energetically with Martian material we don't control. We won't be surprised if some steps in the process don't go exactly as planned the first time through."
The rover will investigate a range of geographic anomalies, including "veins, nodules, cross-bedding layering, a lustrous pebble embedded in sandstone, and possibly some holes in the ground," the report states.
"The main goal is to try to assess this material in a very general way that will give us an appraisal of the habitability of this environment," says lead scientist John Grotzinger. "[Yellowknife Bay] had a different type of wet environment than the streambed where we landed - maybe a few different types of wet environments."
French scientist Nicolas Mangold explains that veins similar to those found in the Bay "requires water circulating in fractures [on Earth]."
Stay tuned for regular updates on NASA's Curiosity mission.