Nasa’s Curiosity Mars rover reaching turning point

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Immediate target: Point Lake has an appearance reminiscent of Swiss cheese

Immediate target: Point Lake has an appearance reminiscent of Swiss cheese

Nasa is finally thinking about getting its Curiosity rover on the road and heading towards the big mountain at its exploration site in Mars’ Gale Crater.

The robot has spent the past six months in a small depression, drilling its rocks and analysing their composition.

But mission managers say they will soon command Curiosity to start moving on the roughly 8km drive to Mount Sharp.

The tall peak is the rover’s primary objective, where it expects to learn much about Mars’ environmental history.

Engineers plan to begin the drive in the “next few weeks”, but they will not rush.

“We are on a mission of exploration. If we come across scientifically interesting areas, we are going to stop and examine them before continuing the journey,” explained Curiosity project manager Jim Erickson.

“It’s difficult to say exactly how long it will take. I’d hazard a guess that somewhere between 10 months and a year might be a fast pace.”

he rover has a few tasks to complete before starting the traverse.

Its onboard laboratories are still examining a powered sample drilled from the so-called Cumberland rock in the Yellowknife Bay depression.

This analysis should reinforce the findings from an initial sample drilled from a nearby mudstone dubbed John Klein.

This determined the rock had been laid down billions of years ago in a benign water setting, possibly a lake.

The Cumberland drill hole tried to sample a slightly greater concentration of erosion-resistant granules that give the mudstone a slightly bumpy appearance.

But even as the labs do their analysis, Curiosity has started moving towards a rock feature it saw briefly on the way into Yellowknife Bay.

Known as Point Lake, this outcrop has an unusual holey appearance – like Swiss cheese. Scientists are unsure as to whether it is volcanic or sedimentary in character.

“One idea is that it could be a lava flow and those are gas vesicles, and you often see in volcanic rocks on Earth that those kinds of holes are sometimes filled in by secondary minerals. That’s one possibility,” said Dr Joy Crisp, the deputy project scientist for Curiosity.

“And then it could just possibly be some other kind of massive rock, like a sedimentary rock, that happens not to be layered and either the holes are etched by wind or they’re with some mineral that has weathered out; or there were just gases in that rock as it was forming and it’s left holes in that rock.”….
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Written by physicsgg

June 6, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Posted in SPACE

Tagged with ,

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