Category: Tech / Sci / February 21, 2013 6:27 PM EST
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity, dispatched to learn if the planet ever had ingredients for life, drilled its first bit of powder from inside a potentially water-formed ancient rock, scientists said on Wednesday (February 20).
The robotic geology station, which landed inside a giant impact basin on August 6 for a two-year mission, transferred about a tablespoon of rock powder from its drill into a scoop, pictures relayed by the rover Wednesday showed.
On February 8, the rover used its powerful drill, the first instrument of its type to be sent to Mars, to bore inside a flat, veined piece of bedrock, which appears to contain minerals formed by flowing water.
The sample, retrieved from at least 2 inches (5 cm) beneath the surface of the rock, will be sieved and portions of it processed inside two onboard science instruments.
The gray powder is strikingly different than the ubiquitous red dust that covers the planet's surface, a result of oxidation from solar ultraviolet radiation.
The drill is the last of Curiosity's 10 science instruments to be tested since the rover landed inside Gale Crater, located near the planet's equator.
The site was selected because of a three-mile (5-km) high mound of what appears to be layered sediments rising from the crater's floor.
Rather than driving directly over to the mountain, scientists decided to explore an area in the opposite direction that showed intriguing signs of past water.
Water is believed to be a key ingredient for life.
The fine-grained rocks are filled with veins and spherical deposits, including what appears to be calcium sulfate, a mineral which forms on Earth when water flows through fractures in rock. Mars is the planet in our solar system most like Earth.
(Video Source: Reuters)