Washington: NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has come closer to a football-size rock that will be the first for the rover’s arm to examine.
Curiosity is about 8 feet (2.5 meters) from the rock. It lies about halfway from Curiosity’s landing site, Bradbury Landing, to a location called Glenelg.
In coming days, the team plans to touch the rock with a spectrometer to determine its elemental composition and use an arm-mounted camera to take close-up photographs.
Both the arm-mounted Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer and the mast-mounted, laser-zapping Chemistry and Camera Instrument will be used for identifying elements in the rock. This will allow cross-checking of the two instruments.
The rock has been named “Jake Matijevic” after Jacob Matijevic (mah-TEE-uh-vik), who was the surface operations systems chief engineer for Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) and the project’s Curiosity rover. He passed away Aug. 20, at age 64. Matijevic also was a leading engineer for all of the previous NASA Mars rovers: Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity.
Curiosity now has driven six days in a row. Daily distances range from 72 feet to 121 feet (22 meters to 37 meters).
“This robot was built to rove, and the team is really getting a good rhythm of driving day after day when that’s the priority,” said MSL Project Manager Richard Cook of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
The team plans to choose a rock in the Glenelg area for the rover’s first use of its capability to analyze powder drilled from interiors of rocks. Three types of terrain intersect in the Glenelg area – one lighter- toned and another more cratered than the terrain Curiosity currently is crossing. The light-toned area is of special interest because it retains daytime heat long into the night, suggesting an unusual composition.
“As we’re getting closer to the light-toned area, we see thin, dark bands of unknown origin,” said Mars Science Laboratory Project Scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.
“The smaller-scale diversity is becoming more evident as we get closer, providing more potential targets for investigation,” he added.
During Curiosity’s two-year prime mission, researchers will use the rover’s 10 science instruments to assess whether the selected field site inside Gale Crater ever has offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.