UNITED STATES: NASA’s Curiosity rover trekked through the narrow and sandy Paraitepuy Pass on Mars to reach the long-sought-after region of Mount Sharp. The region is enriched with salty minerals and is also known as the “sulfate-bearing unit.”
According to scientists’ hypotheses, the region was created as the streams and ponds on the Martian surface dried up billions of years ago, leaving behind the minerals. If true, the minerals offer enticing clues as to how and why the red planet’s climate changed from Earth-like to the barren desert it is today.
The arrival of the Curiosity rover at the region has been long-awaited since NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted the minerals many years before Curiosity touched down on Mars. This was the first time that the scientists were able to see the terrain up close.
The rover discovered a vast range of types of rocks and found signs of the existence of water at some point in time on Martian soil. Salty minerals like Magnesium sulfate, Calcium sulfate (including gypsum), and sodium chloride were present in the rocks found on the surface.
In the mission’s 36th drill sample, a rock termed “Canaima” was selected. Curiosity’s new project manager, Kathya Zamora-Garcia of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said that the lack of scratch marks and indentations on Canaima when its top surface was poked by the drill indicated that the drilling operation might be difficult.
Curiosity uses a percussive-rotary drill at the end of its 7-foot arm to crush rock samples for analysis. Kathya adds that the team took their time to decide if the drilling operation posed any risk for the old, worn-down rover, which has been operational for over a decade.
In the end, the team was confident enough to proceed with the operation, and as it turned out, the percussive drill was not required.