Progress of NASA's Mars rover, Curiosity, is underway, with NASA scientists saying today that the Mars Space Lab (MSL) is inching steadily towards its first mission objective - the rocky spot within distance of the MSL’s landing zone, identified as Glenelg.
Curiosity, which reached the Red Planet on August 6, has since been undergoing self-diagnostics and sensor calibrations as a part of its commission phase to prep the rover before it begins its journey across the Martian landscape. Having successfully been deployed in the Gale Crater, the rover, while sending dozens of images of its surrounding, is now heading towards an area 400 meters away from its landing spot, called Glenelg, where Curiosity will be conducting a geological survey, as the site represents the junction of three different types of Martian terrain.
But before it reaches Glenelg, Curiosity will first be studying a rock to test out its onboard array of a ChemCam laser, the Mahli "hand lens" and the APXS X-ray spectrometer. And the latest update from NASA has it that Curiosity has reached the rock, dubbed "Jake Matiejevic" after a NASA scientist who worked on the project but died back in August.
Since landing, the MSL has travelled a distance of 298m, and before continuing on toe Glenelg, it will study the 25cm high rock that, according to NASA scientists, is most likely volcanic Martian rock or basalt.
Prof. John Grotzinger, lead mission scientist, commented, “It's a cool looking rock with almost pure pyramidal geometry. Our general consensus view is that these are pieces of impact ejecta from an impact somewhere else, maybe outside of Gale Crater, that throws a rock on to the plains, and it just goes on to sit here for a long period of time. It weathers more slowly than the stuff that's around it. So, that means it's probably a harder rock.”
In addition to relating Curiosity’s progress, NASA also released pictures that the rover took of Mars’ twin moons, Phobos and Deimos. The pictures were meant to capture the moons’ transit against the sun. The importance of this study was explained by Curiosity researcher Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University. He said, “[The moons] have tidal forces that they exert on Mars; they change Mars' shape ever so slightly. That in turn changes the moons' orbits - Phobos is slowing down, Deimos is speeding up (like our Moon is). This is something that is happening very slowly over time. And with the transits, we can measure their orbits very precisely and figure out how fast they're doing this. The reason that's interesting is because it constrains Mars' interior structure. We can't go inside Mars but we can use these transits to tell how much Mars deforms when the moons go by."