NASA’s Curiosity rover has used its drilling tool to dig a hole to collect soil samples from a location called Pahrump Hills on Mars. Its sophisticated onboard laboratory will analyze the powdered tailings. Samples collected from the 6cm hole will help scientists determine whether the red planet had ever supported life forms in the past.
Curiosity heading towards Mount Sharp
It’s not the first time Curiosity has drilled into Martian rocks. During more than two years on Mars, the rover has previously drilled into three rocks to collect samples. Based on the analysis of previous samples, NASA scientists have been able to find out signs of rivers and lakes that flowed billions of years ago on Mars. Conditions during that period might have supported microorganisms.
The rover is moving towards its main destination Mount Sharp, which is a three-mile peak at the center of Gale Crater. Scientists expect the chemistry of rock samples collected from Pahrump Hills to offer new details about the environmental past of the red planet. They believe that Pahrump samples will have a high concentration of silica, a substance the probe has found in other rocks as well.
Curiosity reaches a critical juncture in its mission
NASA said Curiosity has now reached at a critical juncture in its mission. It is currently moving through rocks of Murray Formation that make up the Gale Crater floor. Scientists said the rover will likely come in contact with younger sediments as it moves higher in coming months, and possibly years. Eventually, it would reach Mount Sharp, which has rocks representing the ancient time when the red planet moved from a wet and warm climate to a dry world as it is today.
NASA’s Maven spacecraft also entered the Martian orbit a few days ago. Unlike Curiosity, Maven won’t land on the red planet’s surface. It will by studying the upper atmosphere. Maven is expected to provide important new insights into how the Martian environment evolved over time.