Mars Curiosity Rover Drills Into Mount Sharp to Collect Samples

Sep 26, 2014 07:36 AM EDT | Matt Mercuro

NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has drilled its first hole in Martian rock since May.

The rover used its power tool to get a sample from the rock at a spot called "Pahrump Hills." Curiosity has previously drilled into three rocks to collect powdered tailings for analysis in its onboard laboratories.

Researchers said that this should give them a better idea of what type of rocks the rover will face.

Curiosity is driving into the foothills of Mount Sharp, at the center of the Gale Crater, according to NASA.

The rover already established that there were lakes and rivers in the Gale Carter billions of years ago.

Researchers think the chemistry of the rocks will give them a better idea about the environmental history of the planet.

The one-ton robot has established that a lake and rivers were present on the floor of Gale billions of years ago.

Scientists believe conditions during those ancient times could have supported micro-organisms, if they had been present.

Over the past year, Curiosity has spent much of its time just attempting to get to the crater.

The operation on Wednesday followed a small test hole that was sunk in the Pahrump mudstone on Sunday to check its stability.

The mission team is hopeful that the Pahrump sample will have a high silicon content, something the robot has seen in other rocks recently when probing their chemistry with spectrometers.

Curiosity is now moving off the rocks that make up the crater floor and on to a geological unit known as the Murray Formation. Pahrump is its first chance to sample material in this formation, which makes up the base layers of Mount Sharp.

As the rover moves higher over the next couple of months, it will come into contact with younger sediments, according to NASA.

Eventually it should reach rocks from a time when Mars moved from a warm and wet climate to one that more resembles the dry world seen today.

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