NASA’s Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover has successfully drilled into the first high silica rock target on Mars after recently discovering this new type of rock that’s unlike any found before – as she is about to mark the 3rd anniversary since the hair-raising touchdown on the Red Planet.
The SUV-sized rover bored a full depth hole into a Mars outcrop at a target dubbed “Buckskin” as commanded by the mission team over the weekend, after first conducting a mini drill test to assess the safety of the intended drill campaign to sample the alien rock interior beneath the Martian crater floor.
Confirmation of the success of the full depth drilling into “Buckskin” on Sol 1060 at the bright toned “Lion” outcrop came later after receipt of new high resolution images from the rover showing the approximately 1.6 cm (0.63 inch) diameter bore hole next to the initial mini hole test, along with the indicative residue of grey colored tailings from the Martian subsurface seen distributed around the new hole.
Beneath a thin veneer of rusty red colored iron oxide, the Red Planet is remarkably grey as demonstrated by Curiosity’s prior drilling campaigns.
The findings of elevated levels of silicon as well as hydrogen were derived from data collected by Curiosity’s laser-firing Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) instruments on certain local area rocks. The plan is for the robot to next process and pulverize the samples for eventual delivery to the onboard pair of miniaturized chemistry labs located inside her belly – SAM and CheMin.
“Buckskin” sits at the base of Mount Sharp, a huge layered mountain that dominates the center of the 96 mile-wide (154 kilometers-wide) Gale Crater landing site. Exploring the sedimentary layers of Mount Sharp, which towers 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) into the Martian sky, is the primary destination and goal of the rovers long term scientific expedition on the Red Planet.
The Curiosity rover safely touched down on the crater floor on August 5, 2012 following the unprecedented and nail-biting sky crane maneuver that delivered her with pinpoint precision to a landing site inside Gale Crater.
Curiosity has already accomplished her primary objective of discovering a habitable zone on the Red Planet – at the Yellowknife Bay area – that contains the minerals necessary to support microbial life in the ancient past when Mars was far wetter and warmer billions of years ago.