Curiosity is Ready to Analyze a Sample from Inside a Mars Rock
February 22, 2013 • 11:38AM

The Mars rover, Curiosity, has successfully transferred a powdered sample which it drilled out of the rock John Klein on Feb. 8th, from its drill to a holding scoop, mission scientists reported Wednesday during a briefing at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab. The images the rover sent back confirmed that the drilling succeeded in collecting the rock material, and then sent it through the drill to the scoop.

Later, the sample will be placed inside Curiosity's Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) device. The role of CHIMRA is to shake the material once or twice over a sieve, which will screen out particles that are larger than 6 thousandths of an inch. Larger-sized soil particles could clog the handling and anlaysis equipment. Tiny portions of the powdered-rock sample will soon be delivered to the Chemistry and Minerology (CheMin) instrument, and the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument for scientific study.

The job of CheMin is to identify and quantify the minerals in the rock samples. It uses X-ray diffraction, for the first time, for identifying minerals, many of which could not be identified in previous, less capable missions. Scientists hope to be able to determine under what environmental conditions the minerals formed.

SAM uses a suite of three tools to study Martian chemistry. It will check for carbon-based compounds that on Earth are indicative of life. It will also examine other elements, and the ratios of various isotopes of some of them. It is also tasked with studying gases in the Martian atmosphere, and can detect even trace amounts, using a tunable laser spectrometer and gas chromotograph.

These will be the last instruments aboard Curiosity to be activated, and thus bring the rover's full complement of tools to bear on the question of whether there were regions of Mars that were habitable.