The image above is a head-on view of the tip of the drill bit on NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover. It may look threatening when it’s right in your face, but the bit is actually just .6 inch wide — in other words, it’s no rock-chiseling jackhammer.
But it does serve an extremely important purpose.
Rather than being restricted to soil samples like all other Mars rovers, the drill on the end of Curiosity’s robotic arm, capable of churning 1 inch into Martian rock, creates fine powder from the inside of rock that can be poured into other instruments to determine what chemicals and minerals are in those samples.
In particular, the instruments will be checking for organic chemicals made of of carbon and hydrogen, considered among the building blocks of life on Earth.
If those samples contain the “ingredients for life” than scientists will know that Mars once had environmental conditions that could support microbial life — the first evidence that life could arise on another planet.
Curiosity hasn’t reached that stage just yet, though she’s getting closer to boring into Martian rock for the first time.
Over the weekend, the six-wheeled robot performed a series of warm-up tests, lightly tapping a Martian rock with the bit, before the first real drilling activity begins. Hopefully we’ll see some real rock hammering action this month.
Take another look at the bit, this time a side-view, below:
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