After more than two years roving the Red Planet, Curiosity has taken its first bite from the base of a large mountain it was sent to Mars to investigate.
Curiosity arrived at Mount Sharp, a three mile high mountain that lies inside Gale Crater, earlier this month after spending more than a year traveling to its prime destination. The rover began its investigations in a small outcrop at the base of the mountain known as Pahrump Hills.
On Wednesday, Curiosity drilled about 2.6 inches deep into the outcrop collecting a sample of powdered rock. The sample will soon be deposited into a scoop on the rover’s arm for observation to determine whether it is safe to deliver to the rover’s onboard suite of instruments for examination.
“This drilling target is at the lowest part of the base layer of the mountain, and from here we plan to examine the higher, younger layers exposed in the nearby hills,” said Curiosity deputy project scientist Ashwin Vasavada. “This first look at rocks we believe to underlie Mount Sharp is exciting because it will begin to form a picture of the environment at the time the mountain formed, and what led to its growth.”
Curiosity’s arrival at Mount Sharp marks a turning point in its mission. It will now spend its time scaling the foothills of the mountain to study the sediments in each layer in hopes of better understanding why Mars’ environment changed over time. “We’re putting on the brakes to study this amazing mountain,” said Curiosity deputy project manager Jennifer Trosper. “Curiosity flew hundreds of millions of miles to do this.”