Mars Rover Curiosity Stops to Check Out a Rock

    September 20, 2012

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity this week stopped to examine a football-sized rock on the way to its current destination. The rover stopped about 8 feet out from the rock, which has been named “Jake Matijevic” after the surface operations systems chief engineer for Mars Science Laboratory and the Curiosity rover, who passed away last month.

The Mars rover team at NASA’s Jet Propulstion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology plan to use Curiosity’s arm to take close-up pictures and touch the rock with a spectrometer. By using the rover’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer and Chemistry and Camera Instrument, the team will be able to determine its elemental composition. This is the first time the rover’s arm will be used to examine a rock.

Before stopping to examine Jake Matijevic on Wednesday, Curiosity had driven six days in a row, with distances averaging 72 to 121 feet. The rover’s current destination is an area called Glenelg, which contains three different types of terrain. There, Curiosity will use its capability to analyze powder drilled from the interiors of rocks for the first time.

“This robot was built to rove, and the team is really getting a good rhythm of driving day after day when that’s the priority,” said Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager Richard Cook.

Researchers with the Mars Science Laboratory Project are using Curiosity’s mast camera to find potential targets of investigation. Dark streaks on rocks in the Glenelg area have sparked their intrest. In addition, some lighter-toned terrain in the Glenelg area has been found to retain daytime heat well into the night.

“As we’re getting closer to the light-toned area, we see thin, dark bands of unknown origin,” said Mars Science Laboratory Project Scientist John Grotzinger. “The smaller-scale diversity is becoming more evident as we get closer, providing more potential targets for investigation.”