Mars Rover Curiosity On the Move Again, With Rumors of a “Big” Discovery

    November 20, 2012

After spending weeks stationed at the “Rocknest” site scooping up soil samples, Mars rover Curiosity this past week got the chance to once again drive across the surface of Mars.

NASA announced today that over the weekend the rover first drove about six feet to reach a rock named “Rocknest 3.” Curiosity used the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) on its arm to touch the rock and take two 10-minute readings of the chemical elements in the rock. It then drove 83 feet eastward toward an area named “Point Lake,” stopping at what NASA is calling the Thanksgiving overlook location.

“We have done touches before, and we’ve done goes before, but this is our first ‘touch-and-go’ on the same day,” said Michael Watkins, Curiosity mission manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). “It is a good sign that the rover team is getting comfortable with more complex operational planning, which will serve us well in the weeks ahead.”

Curiosity will use its mast camera during the Thanksgiving break to photograph possible routes and targets to the east of its location. Rover team members are particularly looking for a good rock to break-in Curiosity’s hammering drill on.

Meanwhile, rumors are beginning to circulate that Curiosity’s first chemical analysis of Martian soil using its Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument has found something very interesting. An NPR interview with John Grotzinger, principal investigator for the rover mission at JPL, called the results of the tests “Earth-shaking.” Though the rover has left the Rocknest site, its arm still carries some of the soil from the fifth and final scoop at that location. The sample will be available for analysis as researchers work to verify their big finding during the next few weeks.

(Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech)