In its first two months of operation, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft has completed the most complicated job it’s ever done.
Its robotic arm has drilled a series of holes in the Martian soil to collect the largest and deepest sample of Martian soil ever found on Earth.
The first test of Curiosity’s drill came a few days after the robotic arm began the first of two drilling sessions on July 7, and the first sample was brought to the lab in mid-September.
The sample contained almost 1,300 grams (0.05 ounces) of soil that could yield the first complete sample of soil on Mars.
But now it’s not so easy to get back a sample that’s been drilled.
The first step is to use the drill to make the holes to fit a drill bit into the hole.
The drill bit must be at least four millimetres (one inch) in diameter and two millimetre (one-half inch) deep.
The drilled holes are sealed and the drill is powered on to drill a new hole in the soil.
The drill’s teeth are sharp, so the drill can cut through the soil much more easily than a regular drill bit.
The teeth can also break into the soil and release the trapped material.
“If we get a bit of this stuff out, we can get a much better picture of what’s going on,” said Peter Hotez, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
The drilling procedure takes place on the same day that the rover is scheduled to fly past the red planet in the mission’s final days.
It’s called a geosynchronous orbit.
The Curiosity rover’s drill drill bit is powered with a drill motor that is capable of producing a high-speed drive that can cut the soil in half.
The drive is used to extract samples from the Martian landscape.
(NASA/JPL-Caltech)It’s not the only drill that can be used to drill holes in Martian soil.
NASA’s rovers Curiosity and Opportunity can also drill in the same area, and they are also capable of drilling into Martian soil with their drill bits.
The Martian soil samples will help scientists learn more about the history of Mars and what kinds of chemicals and minerals are present there.
Scientists have long been curious about the Martian atmosphere, and Curiosity’s work has revealed some of the first signs of what could be methane in the atmosphere.
“It’s been quite a remarkable mission to have drilled into this soil to find these interesting things,” said NASA’s principal investigator, John Grotzinger.
“It’s going to be exciting to learn more.”
In addition to the drill bits, Curiosity has also made the first three deep cuts in the Curiosity soil to test the drilling technique, and a drill from the rover’s robotic arm that will be used during the final drilling sessions.
The rover team is currently analyzing the soil to try and find out if it contains methane.
They hope to identify a chemical called ternary ammonium that is used by microbial life on Mars and can help identify the type of life that once lived there.NASA is sending Curiosity to Mars in 2022.
It will spend roughly 10 years exploring the Red Planet, collecting samples from Martian soil and returning them to Earth.