The Mars Curiosity rover has spent the last two weeks scooping, shaking and sampling its first taste of Mars dirt at a patch of windblown sand called “Rocknest.”
The purpose of all this digging and “ingesting” has been to identify what minerals are in the sand and rocks on Mars. The minerals, in turn, provide clues about the environmental conditions under which these rocks were formed.
Now, the one-ton roving laboratory has turned its attention to a small target within Rocknest called “Crestaurum.” On Saturday, Curiosity fired a laser at the fine-sand-covered target 30 times, which created a dark pit that measures about one-eighth of an inch across. The moving picture below shows the target before and after it was zapped.
In addition to examining the chemical elements within Martian sand, the laser exercise is part of a study to see if frost forms on Mars during the night, says Anna Hubbard at the Los Angeles Times.
While the rover still has (hopefully) the greater of two years to snoop around the Red Planet, this particular test must be done before the season shifts and the surface of Mars starts warming up. And the clock is ticking.
“The Gale Crater site, which is 4 degrees south of the equator, is currently in early spring,” Roger Wiens of Los Alamos National Laboratory told Hubbard. “Both day and nighttime temperatures are getting warmer. It was important that we carry out this study while it is still early in spring.”
We’ll update you once the results are out.
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