Mars Curiosity's Rock Drilling Reveals that Underneath It All the Red Planet is Grey

Mars Curiosity's Rock Drilling Reveals that Underneath It All the Red Planet is Grey

Mars may be the Red Planet, but results from the Mars Curiosity rover suggest that it’s all a veneer.  Underneath, grey may be the norm.

For the first time, a robotic drill has pieced a Martian rock and the sample extracted from the rock is grey.   At a media teleconference today, Joel Hurowitz, sampling system scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said that the planet is red on the surface because of oxidized dust strewn across the planet by winds, but that underneath what they are finding is grey.

Curiosity is trying to determine if Mars was habitable — capable of supporting life — in the past and Curiosity project scientist John Grotzinger said from that perspective grey is better than red.  “Oxidation destroys organic compounds,” he explained, but, just to keep everything in perspective, he added that it is “still an accident of fate to preserve organics.”

The sample taken from the rock has not yet been analyzed by instruments on Curiosity.  The media teleconference today announced only that a sample was successfully obtained.  The photo below shows the dust extracted from the rock sitting in the rover’s scoop.

Image credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The next step is to put the sample through a sieve to make certain the particles are the right size to be analyzed by Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) and Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instruments.   The sieved particles will be transferred to SAM and CheMin in coming days after which more will be known about the sample’s composition.

Curiosity’s project team will move cautiously with the sieving process because of a problem that developed with the sieve on an Earth-based twin using for testing.   There are two test units on Earth and welds are popping along the side of the sieve where it attaches to the primary structure on one of them.  The other is fine.   Engineers do not know if the unit on Curiosity might have the same issue so will limit use of the sieve as much as possible.   Daniel Limonadi, lead systems engineer for Curiosity’s surface sampling and science system, was optimistic that the problem will not affect the rover’s scientific operations.

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