NASA's curiosity rover is set to inspect a Martian rock to determine whether it is suitable as a drilling target. The rock, which was given the name "Windjana," will be tested using the rover's specialized tools over the coming weekend.
The Curiosity rover was sent to Mars with a number of core missions, and drilling sites of scientific interest is one of the rover's most important tasks. The team operating the rover has determined that the Windjana rock may meet certain criteria set by NASA scientists and the rock may be Curiosity's next drilling target. The Martian slab of sandstone was named after the Windjana gorge found in the western part of Australia.
While the rock has been labeled as a potential target, scientists still have to run a number of tests before drilling can commence. The rover will be taking a variety of measurements to gather more information about the rock. To determine the suitability of Windjana for drilling, Curiosity will use its X-ray spectrometer and built-in camera to gather more data about the rock. NASA engineers say that Curiosity will also be removing dust from the potential target using its robotic arm. To understand the composition of Windjana, scientists also plan on using Curiosity's mast-mounted laser to bombard certain parts of the rock with laser beams.
Aside from cameras, X-rays and laser beams, Curiosity still has other tricks up its robotic sleeves to help aid scientists investigate the Martian landscape. Once the tests have confirmed the target's suitability, the rover will commence using its hammering drill to take out little samples of the rock's interior. The samples will then be fed to the rover's on-board laboratory instrumentation to conduct a more thorough analysis of the samples. Curiosity has already drilled and analyzed two Martian rocks during the course of its mission. The first two targets were made of mudstone and both targets were found in Yellowknife Bay around 2.5 miles away from Curiosity's current location.
"We want to learn more about the wet process that turned sand deposits into sandstone here," said California Institute of Technology professor and Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger. "What was the composition of the fluids that bound the grains together? That aqueous chemistry is part of the habitability story we're investigating."
After investigating the previous mudstone targets, the Curiosity team now wants to learn more about the sandstone rocks on Mars. Scientists are trying to understand the reason behind the differences in the hardness of the sandstones in the area within the Gale Crater. NASA believes that the new drilling target may hold clues regarding the current landscape in the Gale Crater.