Following the last couple of weeks preparing its onboard laboratory and sampling equipment, NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity, according to mission scientists, has taken its first Martian soil sample. For nearly the past two weeks now, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) has been stationed at a rocky sand spot, identified as the Rocknest, where it has been cleaning its instrument by sand blasting them with Martian sand in order to decontaminate them of earthly substances before it takes its first soil sample.
And now Curiosity has ingested its first sample of Martian soil, feeding itself a “pinch” of dust to be examined by one of its onboard laboratories, the CheMin (Chemistry & Mineralogy) instrument. Mission scientists received word that the MSL had successfully ingested the soil sample adding that a full chemical analysis would most probably be ready in about a week’s time.
Of course, the fact that Curiosity has successfully obtained a sample and presently analyzing it is being described as “important” as the onboard analysis of the Martian soil samples will help to explain a great deal about the Red Planet as chief scientist John Grotzinger said, "The most important thing about our mobile laboratory is that it eats dirt - that's what we live on."
The CheMin, one of two of the MSL’s major analytical instruments will be using x-ray diffraction to provide definitive mineralogy, that is, the basic mineral composition of the soil sample. Once the CheMin results are produced, the Martian soil samples will then be fed to the “belly” of the MSL, feeding the sample to the other onboard laboratory, the SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) Instrument.
The present sample that has been ingested, obtained by a scooper and then fed through sieves and sorting chambers, is around a tenth of a millimeter in diameter. Mission scientists have described this sample as “regional,” if not “global.”
Prof. Gotzinger added, “We see these globe-encircling dust storms and we believe that there are grains that are deposited uniformly all over Mars. [We're] going to be able to analyze finally, once and for all, the mineral composition of this global component – not of the local component; not of the bits and pieces of the rocks that are around [our landing site], but the stuff that swirls around the planet; and that’s why this is going to be such a cool measurement.”
Curiosity is presently within the Gale Crater, having travelled close to 480 meters, on its way to the geological junction known as Glenelg. On the way there it discovered an unusual Martian volcanic rock and the very first evidence of an ancient water flow on the Red Planet.