Mars rover Curiosity has placed the first solid sample of Martian soil into its Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument. The sample's chemical makeup has been analyzed, looking specifically for compounds found in environments that can support life. The results of the analysis have not yet been announced.
"We received good data from this first solid sample," said Paul Mahaffy, SAM principal investigator at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "We have a lot of data analysis to do, and we are planning to get additional samples of Rocknest material to add confidence about what we learn."
The sample was taken from a patch of windblown sand and dust NASA has dubbed "Rocknest." On November 9 the "pinch" of fine sand and dust was placed into an inlet port (seen above) for the SAM. For two days, the instrument used mass spectrometry, gas chromatography, and laser spectrometry to chemically analyze the sample.
Curiosity has been stationed at the Rocknest site for weeks now, using its arm and instruments to scoop soil for testing. The rover's Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument has already analyzed the mineral composition of the soil at Rocknest. It determined that the material resembles weathered basaltic soils of volcanic origin found in Hawaii.
The rover's SAM instrument has previously been used to sample the Martian atmosphere. Its findings corroborated estimates of the atmosphere determined using meteorites from Mars, showing that the loss of the atmosphere has been a significant factor in the evolution of the planet. Researchers were hoping to find traces of methane in the sample, but found little to none.
(Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)