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NASA's curisoity Rover is all set to dig for crystals in rock on evaporated lake in Gale crater on Mars.(Photo: NASA)

Curiosity to drill into crystal-rich rock at Gale Crater on Mars

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is all set to drill into a crystal-rich rock on the Red planet to find out salt and other crystal mineral  which were left behind when lake water evaporated, says an Indian-American scientist associated with the project. Rock crystals also include diamonds and related pricey stones formed in rocks.

The rock target called “Mojave” at Gale Crater displays copious slender features – slightly smaller than grains of rice – that appear to be mineral crystals. “The crystal shapes are apparent in the earlier images of Mojave but we do not know what they represent,” said Curiosity project scientist Ashwin Vasavada at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

“We are hoping that mineral identifications we get from the rover’s laboratory will shed more light than we got from just the images and bulk chemistry,” he added.

NASA's Next Mars Rover to Land at Gale Crater Canyons on Mountain Inside Gale Crater, AnnotatedLower Portion of Mound Inside Gale CraterOblique view of Gale Crater from the Northwest Gale Crater: Future Home of Mars Rover CuriosityDaybreak at Gale CraterContext of Curiosity Landing Site in Gale Crater, with Ellipse This computer-generated view based on multiple orbital observations shows Mars' Gale crater as if seen from an aircraft northwest of the crater. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/UA

NASA’s Next Mars Rover to Land at Gale Crater
Canyons on Mountain Inside Gale Crater, AnnotatedLower Portion of Mound Inside Gale CraterOblique view of Gale Crater from the Northwest
Gale Crater: Future Home of Mars Rover CuriosityDaybreak at Gale CraterContext of Curiosity Landing Site in Gale Crater, with Ellipse
This computer-generated view based on multiple orbital observations shows Mars’ Gale crater as if seen from an aircraft northwest of the crater. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/UA

To begin with, Curiosity is beginning a “mini-drill” test to assess the rock’s suitability for deeper drilling which collects a sample for on board laboratory analysis. This is the fourth new version of the on board software since the rover’s August 2012 landing.

The “Mojave” drilling begins Curiosity’s third round of investigating the basal layer of Mount Sharp exposed at an area called “Pahrump Hills”. Curiosity’s Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin) can identify specific minerals in rock powder from a drilled sample.

Analysis of the drill hole and drill tailings may also reveal whether the crystals are only at the surface, like a salty crust, or are also deeper in the rock. There could be diamonds and other crystals which may be discovered.

“Are the salt crystals left from a drying lake? Or are they more pervasive through the rock, formed by fluids moving through the rock? In either case, a later fluid may have removed or replaced the original minerals with something else,” Vasavada asked.

This view from the wide-angle Hazard Avoidance Camera on the front of NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover shows the rover's drill in position for a mini-drill test to assess whether a rock target called "Mojave" is appropriate for full-depth drilling to collect a sample. It was taken on Jan. 13, 2015. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This view from the wide-angle Hazard Avoidance Camera on the front of NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover shows the rover’s drill in position for a mini-drill test to assess whether a rock target called “Mojave” is appropriate for full-depth drilling to collect a sample. It was taken on Jan. 13, 2015.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

(With inputs from IANS)

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