As NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity continues to dominate Mars with its instruments of science, it has used its scooper — with the dizzying name ‘Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis’ (CHIMRA) — for a second time.
In recent raw photographs beamed back from Aeolis Palus, the plain at the base of Gale Crater that leads to the 3-mile (5-kilometer) high mountain Aeolis Mons (unofficially called Mt. Sharp), a second trench is evident in the Mars regolith.
In the photograph shown above, two trenches are now evident in a ripple of sand and dust at “Rocknest” — a cluster of dark rocks Curiosity is currently parked next to.
Over the past few days Curiosity has been giving CHIMRA a Mars dust bath — its robotic arm scooped a sample and shook the dust and regolith grains over the scooper’s metal surfaces. The ‘used’ soil was then unceremoniously dumped.
The rationale behind this is to scrub away any terrestrial contaminants, such as fine layers of oil that may have settled on the instrument after leaving NASA’s clean rooms, before the scoop is used to deposit samples into the rover’s on-board chemistry laboratories.
In this photo, mission managers commanded the robotic arm-mounted Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) to look deep into the first trench dug by CHIMRA. At first glance, there appears to be a thin crusty layer of regolith atop darker material. These close-up views will be essential for NASA scientists to better understand the constituents and origin of the soil beneath the rover.
MAHLI was also used to examine the errant piece of plastic litter that was accidentally dropped by the rover last week (below). Although its source still isn’t known, mission scientists have been scouring numerous images of the object in the hope of understanding whether or not its absence could be an issue for the rover.
The cleaning procedure is expected to take several more days, where more scoops will be taken, shaken and then dumped. Only when the Mars dust bath is complete will scientists be sure that when they analyze the dirt, all signals are coming from Martina, not terrestrial, sources.
Source: NASA JPL
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech