NASA Mars Rover Examines First Martian Sandstone ‘Windjana’

First Posted: Apr 28, 2014 06:51 AM EDT

NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover is examining a rock to determine whether it should be drilled.

Over the last weekend, Curiosity Mars rover used several tools to examine a sandstone slab, which the NASA team thinks could be a possible drilling target. The sandstone 'Windjana',  is named after a gorge in Western Australia. If all criteria are met, this would be the third rock to be drilled during Curiosity's mission and the first sandstone to be drilled (the other two were mudstones).

Examination of the patch will be done using the camera and X-ray spectrometer present at the end of the rover's arm and a brush will help to remove the dust from the rock to help take readings of composition of the rock.

The first two Martian rocks drilled and analyzed by rover were mudstone slabs both located at a waypoint called 'Kimberley'.  The two mudstones offered rich evidence of an ancient lakebed environment and other chemical elements that revealed conditions that existed billions of years ago on Mars that could support microbial life.

With the drilling of the sandstone the team hopes to analyze the cement like material that binds the sand sized grains in the rock.

"We want to learn more about the wet process that turned sand deposits into sandstone here," said Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "What was the composition of the fluids that bound the grains together? That aqueous chemistry is part of the habitability story we're investigating."

By understanding why few sandstones in the region are harder than others may help researchers understand the landscape in Gale Crater where the Curiosity is operating at present.

Sandstones resistant to erosion in the landscape form a capping of buttes and mesas. Maybe the layered mountain named the Mountain Shape is a result of this form of capping.

 If this targeted sandstone matches the criteria set by Curiosity's engineers and scientists, the  drill will be used to retrieve samples of the interior of the sandstone and onboard scientific instruments will analyze the sandstone.


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