Mars Curiosity Rover Discovers Water, Sulfur
NASA's Mars Curiosity rover discovered water, sulfur and chlorine-containing substances in its first analysis of the Red Planet’s soil using the built-in onboard laboratory. This is the first sample taken and demonstrates Curiosity’s ability to fully analyze what makes up the soil and rocks during the mission currently scheduled to last to 2015.
Curiosity is the first Mars rover able to scoop soil into analytical instruments. The specific soil sample came from a drift of windblown dust and sand called "Rocknest." The site lies in a flat part of Gale Crater still
miles away from the rover's main destination on the slope of a mountain called Mount Sharp.
The rover's laboratory includes the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite and the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument. SAM used three methods to analyze gases given off from the dusty sand when it was heated in a tiny oven. One class of substances SAM checks for is organic compounds -- carbon-containing chemicals that can be ingredients for life.
Curiosity's APXS instrument and the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on the rover's arm confirmed Rocknest has chemical-element composition similar to sites visited by earlier NASA Mars rovers Pathfinder,
Spirit and Opportunity. Curiosity's team selected Rocknest as the first scooping site because it has fine sand particles suited for scrubbing interior surfaces of the arm's sample-handling chambers.
Sand was vibrated inside the chambers to remove residue from Earth. MAHLI close-up images of Rocknest show a dust-coated crust one or two sand grains thick, covering dark, finer sand.
For more information about Curiosity and other Mars missions, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mars.