July 18, 2024
1 Solar System Way, Planet Earth, USA
Astronomy

What's in this latest hole NASA drilled on Mars?

The Curiosity rover continues to conduct experiments, drilling more than 40 holes in Mars to help us better understand the Red Planet.

NASA's Curiosity rover continues to conduct experiments in Mars' Gale Crater, even after more than 4,200 days on the Martian surface. On Curiosity's 4,214th sol (the name given to a Martian day), which corresponds to June 12, 2024, the rover was ordered to drill a 1.6-centimeter (0.63-inch) hole in a rock called “Lagos.” Mammoth.” The name comes from a town in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California.

The first thing the rover does is perform a preload test, which determines whether the drill is working and also whether the chosen rock is stable enough to drill into. Unfortunately, that was not the case. So the science team, after much discussion, moved the rover slightly and tried again on sol 4,222 (June 21).

As a member of the team Alex Innanen, an atmospheric scientist at the University of York, he wrote in a NASA blog post“All our patient waiting was rewarded, as we were greeted with the news that our mock attempt was successful.”

But drilling the hole is only the first step. Next, the rover's alpha particle X-ray spectrometer must collect data. To do this, an instrument brushes and smoothes the surface and then the reading is taken. After that, the team determines whether or not a small sample of the drilled material will be delivered to the rover's Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) X-ray diffraction instrument.

RELATED: Where did all the water on Mars go?

Finally, the investigation of the material will be carried out by the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite. According to Innanen, that process is “quite energy-consuming,” but by carefully conserving energy and changing the order of some of the rover's targets, the procedure was performed and the data was sent back to Earth for analysis.

There are more than 40 holes drilled on Mars

Curiosity drills one of the first holes on Mars at the site called Cumberland on May 19, 2013.
Curiosity drills one of the holes on Mars at the site called Cumberland. The rover's front-facing hazard avoidance camera took these images on May 19, 2013. Credit: NASA.

This line of work is one of Curiosity's specialties: In 2013, it became the first rover to drill a hole in the Red Planet. The mission team announced their 40th successful drilling in March 2024. Analysis of rock dust helps scientists learn more about Gale Crater's past, when it was a lake filled with water.

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