NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has again sent back new, fascinating close-up photos of the Martian terrain. This time, the rover used its new tools to "play" in the red planet's sand and soil.
Last year, the Curiosity rover snapped images of the rippled surface of Mars' Bagnold Dunes, an area that sits along the northwest edge of Mount Sharp.
Now, at its current location, the rover is inspecting an active sand dune called "Namib Dune," which is also part of the Bagnold Dune field.
New photos posted on Curiosity rover's Twitter account featured Martian soil and sand in great detail, where even individual grains can be distinguished and analyzed.
Scooping And Digging Into Martian Soil
After spending more than three years on the red planet's surface, the Curiosity rover has begun to dig into the sand dunes on Mars. The rover added some new maneuvers in order to dig and scoop up some samples of Martian sand.
This is the first time that active sand dunes found on any planet other than Earth have been studied. NASA said this could help reveal how winds shaped the surface of Mars.
Curiosity is now scooping samples from the Namib Dune and "Gobabeb," another dune site. These samples will be sorted by grain size with two sieves.
One of the two sieves, the coarser sieve, is making its debut. For the first time, Curiosity used the coarser sieve for a more efficient way of treating samples.
Doing All The 'Dirty Work'
On Jan. 14, Curiosity scooped its first dune sample. To do so, the rover probed the Namib dune by scuffing the surface with a wheel.
"The scuff helped give us confidence we have enough sand where we're scooping that the path of the scoop won't hit the ground under the sand," said NASA's Michael McHenry, the campaign rover planner for the mission.
After successfully scooping samples, the first sieve on the rover's arm screened out grains that were bigger than 150 microns or about 0.006 inch.
Some of the material that went through the sieve fell into inlet ports from a "portioner" on the device, while material that was blocked by the device was dumped back onto the ground.
On Jan. 19, Curiosity dug its second scoop of sample from Gobabeb. This is where the coarser sieve worked its magic.
Material from the second scoop was fed to the 150-micron sieve, but some of the material did not pass through, so they were transported through the coarser sieve, which screened out grains bigger than one millimeter or about 0.039 inch.
All the scooped-up sand samples were sent to the on-board chemistry lab, the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM).
Cool Selfies On Mars
Aside from the photos of Martian sand and soil, Curiosity has also taken several selfies while navigating through the dunes of the planet.
In 2014, Curiosity reached the base of Mount Sharp after studying outcrops closer to its landing site, and then journeying to the layered mountain.
On the lower portion of Mount Sharp, the Mars mission is investigating how the red planet's environment possibly changed from favorable wet conditions for microbial life to its current drier and harsher conditions.