The US space agency (NASA) is preparing to take the first samples of Martian rock. The space object, the size of a finger, would be packaged in a sealed tube to eventually be brought to earth.
Scientists want to find out whether there was life on Mars. The sample will be tested by studying its surface material in the laboratory.
The US space agency landed on the Red Planet in February, in a 45 km (30 mile) wide crater called Jezero.
Satellite images show that there was once a lake on Mars, fed by a river delta. Thus, the evidence points to ancient microbial organisms – if they ever existed on the Red Planet.
The NASA robot has cruised about 1 km (3,000 feet) south from where it landed dramatically five months ago. Now stop at a location dubbed “Paver Rock”, or “Rough Crack”.
It is a collection of pale colored stones that the mission team believes represents the base, or floor, of Jezero. Scientists want to determine whether this Paver Stone came from sediment or volcanic origin.
Both are interesting, but the special qualities of volcanic rocks are that they can be dated with extremely high precision and accuracy in the laboratory, said chief scientist Ken Farley.
“That’s really going to be timing a lot of the things we see on Mars,” he told reporters.
It will first scrape the surface of a selected section of the Paver Rock, to remove the dust covering Mars, and then inspect the site with its powerful instruments.
Samples were taken with the help of a robot. Robots are able to determine the chemical composition, mineralogy and texture within rocks – to identify them definitively. Finally, in early August, the robot will secure the drilled core.
The rover will keep about 40 of these small sample tubes during its mission. Later projects from NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) will arrive on Mars to take these samples.
Prof Farley said he expected the four unique samples to be deposited in the area of the crater that is now under investigation. This includes an interesting rock outcrop, called Artuby.
The site is about 600 m apart and appears to contain several layers of very fine sediment, potentially deposited by the lake and river delta system that once occupied Jezero.
“This is the most interesting rock type for us to investigate for potential biological markers in this ancient rock record,” said the California Institute of Technology researchers. (Red)