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PRESS RELEASE
12.03.2012
Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA Mars Rover Fully Analyzes First Martian Soil Samples

Scoop Marks in the Sand at 'Rocknest'
Scoop Marks in the Sand at 'Rocknest'
This is a view of the third (left) and fourth (right) trenches made by the 1.6-inch-wide (4-centimeter-wide) scoop on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity in October 2012.

Curiosity Rover's Traverse, August through November 2012
Curiosity Rover's Traverse, August through November 2012
This map shows where NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has driven since landing at a site subsequently named "Bradbury Landing," and traveling to an overlook position near beside "Point Lake," in drives totaling 1,703 feet (519 meters).

PASADENA, Calif. - NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has used its full array of instruments to analyze Martian soil for the first time, and found a complex chemistry within the Martian soil.

Water and sulfur and chlorine-containing substances, among other ingredients, showed up in samples Curiosity's arm delivered to an analytical laboratory inside the rover.

Detection of the substances during this early phase of the mission demonstrates the laboratory's capability to analyze diverse soil and rock samples over the next two years. Scientists also have been verifying the capabilities of the rover's instruments.

Curiosity is the first Mars rover able to scoop soil into analytical instruments. The specific soil sample came from a drift of windblown dust and sand called "Rocknest." The site lies in a relatively flat part of Gale Crater still miles away from the rover's main destination on the slope of a mountain called Mount Sharp. The rover's laboratory includes the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite and the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument. SAM used three methods to analyze gases given off from the dusty sand when it was heated in a tiny oven. One class of substances SAM checks for is organic compounds -- carbon-containing chemicals that can be ingredients for life.

"We have no definitive detection of Martian organics at this point, but we will keep looking in the diverse environments of Gale Crater," said SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Curiosity's 'Rocknest' Workplace
Curiosity's 'Rocknest' Workplace
NASA's Curiosity Mars rover documented itself in the context of its work site, an area called "Rocknest Wind Drift," on the 84th Martian day, or sol, of its mission (Oct. 31, 2012).

Curiosity's APXS instrument and the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on the rover's arm confirmed Rocknest has chemical-element composition and textural appearance similar to sites visited by earlier NASA Mars rovers Pathfinder, Spirit and Opportunity.

Curiosity's team selected Rocknest as the first scooping site because it has fine sand particles suited for scrubbing interior surfaces of the arm's sample-handling chambers. Sand was vibrated inside the chambers to remove residue from Earth. MAHLI close-up images of Rocknest show a dust-coated crust one or two sand grains thick, covering dark, finer sand.

"Active drifts on Mars look darker on the surface," said MAHLI Principal Investigator Ken Edgett, of Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego. "This is an older drift that has had time to be inactive, letting the crust form and dust accumulate on it."

CheMin's examination of Rocknest samples found the composition is about half common volcanic minerals and half non-crystalline materials such as glass. SAM added information about ingredients present in much lower concentrations and about ratios of isotopes. Isotopes are different forms of the same element and can provide clues about environmental changes. The water seen by SAM does not mean the drift was wet. Water molecules bound to grains of sand or dust are not unusual, but the quantity seen was higher than anticipated.

SAM tentatively identified the oxygen and chlorine compound perchlorate. This is a reactive chemical previously found in arctic Martian soil by NASA's Phoenix Lander. Reactions with other chemicals heated in SAM formed chlorinated methane compounds -- one-carbon organics that were detected by the instrument. The chlorine is of Martian origin, but it is possible the carbon may be of Earth origin, carried by Curiosity and detected by SAM's high sensitivity design.

Windblown Sand from the 'Rocknest' Drift
Windblown Sand from the 'Rocknest' Drift
The Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity acquired close-up views of sands in the "Rocknest" wind drift to document the nature of the material that the rover scooped, sieved and delivered to the Chemistry and Mineralogy Experiment (CheMin) and the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) in October and November 2012.

"We used almost every part of our science payload examining this drift," said Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "The synergies of the instruments and richness of the data sets give us great promise for using them at the mission's main science destination on Mount Sharp."

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity to assess whether areas inside Gale Crater ever offered a habitable environment for microbes. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, a division of Caltech, manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, and built Curiosity.

For more information about Curiosity and other Mars missions, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mars .

You can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at: http://www.facebook.com/marscuriosity and http://www.twitter.com/marscuriosity .
2012-380

Dwayne Brown
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

Guy Webster

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

818-354-6278

guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov

Nancy Neal Jones

Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

301-286-0039

nancy.n.jones@nasa.gov


All Related Images
  • NASA's Curiosity Mars rover documented itself in the context of its work site, an area called "Rocknest Wind Drift," on the 84th Martian day, or sol, of its mission (Oct. 31, 2012).
    Curiosity's 'Rocknest' Workplace
  • This is a view of the third (left) and fourth (right) trenches made by the 1.6-inch-wide (4-centimeter-wide) scoop on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity in October 2012.
    Scoop Marks in the Sand at 'Rocknest'
  • The Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity acquired close-up views of sands in the "Rocknest" wind drift to document the nature of the material that the rover scooped, sieved and delivered to the Chemistry and Mineralogy Experiment (CheMin) and the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) in October and November 2012.
    Windblown Sand from the 'Rocknest' Drift
  • This collage shows the variety of soils found at landing sites on Mars.
    A Sampling of Martian Soils
  • This graph compares the elemental composition of typical soils at three landing regions on Mars: Gusev Crater, where NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit traveled; Meridiani Planum, where Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity still roams; and now Gale Crater, where NASA's newest Curiosity rover is currently investigating.
    Inspecting Soils Across Mars
  • This plot of data from NASA's Mars rover Curiosity shows the variety of gases that were released from sand grains upon heating in the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument, or SAM
    Heating Martian Sand Grains
  • This plot shows the first-ever look at the deuterium to hydrogen ratio measured from the surface of Mars, as detected by the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument, or SAM, on NASA's Curiosity rover.
    Atmospheric Loss on Mars
  • NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has detected sulfur, chlorine, and oxygen compounds in fine grains scooped by the rover at a wind drift site called "Rocknest."
    Signs of Perchlorates and Sulfur Containing Compounds
  • The first examinations of Martian soil by the Sample Analysis at Mars, or SAM, instrument on NASA's Mars Curiosity rover show no definitive detection of Martian organic molecules at this point.
    Chlorinated Compounds at 'Rocknest'
  • This map shows where NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has driven since landing at a site subsequently named "Bradbury Landing," and traveling to an overlook position near beside "Point Lake," in drives totaling 1,703 feet (519 meters).
    Curiosity Rover's Traverse, August through November 2012
  • NASA's Curiosity Mars rover documented itself in the context of its work site, an area called "Rocknest Wind Drift," on the 84th Martian day, or sol, of its mission (Oct. 31, 2012).
    Curiosity's 'Rocknest' Workplace (Unannotated)
  • This is a view of the third (left) and fourth (right) trenches made by the 1.6-inch-wide (4-centimeter-wide) scoop on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity in October 2012.
    Scoop Marks in the Sand at 'Rocknest' (Unannotated)
  • The Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity acquired close-up views of sands in the "Rocknest" wind drift to document the nature of the material that the rover scooped, sieved and delivered to the Chemistry and Mineralogy Experiment (CheMin) and the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) in October and November 2012.
    Windblown Sand from the 'Rocknest' Drift (Unannotated)

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