Curiosity found widespread evidence for flowing water in the highly diverse, rocky scenery shown in this photo mosaic from the edge of Yellowknife Bay on Sol 157 (Jan 14, 2012). The rover will soon conduct 1st Martian rock drilling operation at flat, light toned rocks at the outcrop called “John Klein”, at center. ‘John Klein’ drill site and ‘Sheep Bed’ outcrop ledges to right of rover arm are filled with numerous mineral veins and spherical concretions which strongly suggest precipitation of minerals from liquid water. ‘Snake River’ rock formation is the linear chain of rocks protruding up from the Martian sand near rover wheel. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
The Curiosity rover hit the science “jackpot” and has discovered widespread further evidence of multiple episodes of liquid water flowing over ancient Mars billions of years ago when the planet was warmer and wetter, scientists announced. The watery evidence comes in the form of water bearing mineral veins, cross-bedded layering, nodules and spherical sedimentary concretions.
Any day now the robot will be instructed to drill directly into veined rocks where water once flowed, the team announced at a media briefing this week.
Delighted researchers said Curiosity surprisingly found lots of evidence for light-toned chains of linear mineral veins inside fractured rocks littering the highly diverse Martian terrain – using her array of ten state-of-the-art science instruments. Veins form when liquid water circulates through fractures and deposit minerals, gradually filling the insides of the fractured rocks over time.
Sometime in the next two weeks or so, NASA’s car sized rover will carry out history’s first ever drilling inside a Martian rock that was “percolated” by liquid water – an essential prerequisite for life as we know. A powdered sample will then be delivered to the robots duo of analytical chemistry labs (CheMin & SAM) to determine its elemental composition and ascertain whether organic molecules are present.
The drill target area is named “John Klein” outcrop, in tribute to a team member who was the deputy project manager for Curiosity at JPL for several years and who passed away in 2011.
“We identified a potential drill target and are preparing to do drill activities in the next two weeks. We are ready to go,” said Richard Cook, the project manager of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.
“Drilling [into a rock] is the most significant engineering activity since landing. It is the most difficult aspect of the surface mission, interacting with an unknown surface terrain, and has never been done on Mars. We will go slowly. It will take some time to deliver samples to CheMin and SAM and will be a great set of scientific measurements.”
Image caption: Mineral veins of calcium sulfate discovered by Curiosity at ‘Sheepbed’ Outcrop. These veins form when water circulates through fractures, depositing minerals along the sides of the fracture, to form a vein. These vein fills are characteristic of the stratigraphically lowest unit in the “Yellowknife Bay” area where Curiosity is currently exploring and were imaged on Sol 126 (Dec. 13, 2012) by the telephoto Mastcam camera. Image has been white-balanced. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
“The scientists have been let into the candy store,” said Cook referring to the unexpected wealth of science targets surrounding the rover at this moment.
Curiosity is just a few meters away from ‘John Klein’ and will drive to the site shortly from her location inside ‘Yellowknife Bay’ beside the ‘Snake River’ rock formation. To see where Curiosity is in context with ‘John Klein’ and “Snake River’, see our annotated context mosaic (by Ken Kremer & Marco Di Lorenzo) as the rover collects data at a rock ledge.
The white colored veins were discovered over the past few weeks- using the high resolution mast- mounted imaging cameras and ChemCam laser firing spectrometer -at exactly the vicinity where Curiosity is currently investigating ; around a shallow basin called Yellowknife Bay and roughly a half mile away from the landing site inside Gale Crater.
“This lowest unit that we are at in Yellowknife Bay, the very farthest thing we drove to, turns out to be kind of the ‘jackpot’ unit here,” said John Grotzinger, the mission’s chief scientist of the California Institute of Technology. “It is literally shot through with these fractures and vein fills.”
Image caption: Curiosity’s Traverse into Different Terrain. This image maps the traverse of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity from “Bradbury Landing” to “Yellowknife Bay,” with an inset documenting a change in the ground’s thermal properties with arrival at a different type of terrain. credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona/CAB(CSIC-INTA)/FMI
Drilling goes to the heart of the mission and will mark a historic feat in planetary exploration – as the first time that an indigenous sample has been cored from the interior of a rock on another planet and subsequently analyzed by chemical spectrometers to determine its elemental composition and determine if organic molecules are present .
The high powered hammering drill is located on the tool turret at the end of the car-sized robots 7 foot (2.1 meter) long mechanical arm . It is the last of Curiosity’s ten instruments that remains to be checked out and put into action.
Curiosity landed on the Red Planet five months ago inside Gale Crater to investigate whether Mars ever offered an environment favorable for microbial life, past or present and is now nearly a quarter of the way through her two year prime mission.
Curiosity might reach the base of Mount Sharp by the end of 2013, which is about 6 miles (10 km) away as the Martian crow flies.