NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity has drilled into another rock and plans are afoot to deliver a second sample of the pulverized material to laboratory instruments on board the rover.
The new rock called “Cumberland” is in the “Yellowknife Bay” depression that the six-wheeled robot has been studying. Three months ago, Curiosity bored into a similar rock called “John Klein” roughly 9 feet (2.75 meters) away.
During the first sample analysis, data collected by Curiosity suggested that the area once had the environmental conditions favorable to support microbial life. These data further support the idea that Gale Crater was once wet and minerals formed in the presence of water.
Although the rover cannot directly search for evidence of past or present life on Mars, it has deduced that the ancient wet environment wasn’t too acidic or briny, factors that are considered to be microbe-friendly. It also analyzed the chemical composition of the ancient rock, finding sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon — all key ingredients that support life as we know it.
The second hole, which Curiosity drilled on May 19, is 2.6 inches (6.6 centimeters) deep and 0.6 inch (1.6 centimeters) wide, pictured top.
By taking a second sample from a rock with similar features as John Klein, mission scientists hope to cross-check chemical analysis of both locations to see if the results tally.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech