Curiosity: Update 4 – Pyramid Rock

Pyramid rock: “Jake Matijevic”

On September 19, 2012, NASA scientists assigned Mars rover Curiosity a monumental task — determine the properties of a football-sized pyramid-shaped rock that looks like the Great Pyramid of Giza. Strange thing is… the rock is in the middle of nowhere! Where did it originate? Could it have been built by an intelligent race that lived or still lives on Mars? Curiosity discovered this rock at the end of its 43rd Martian day. Using the 10 cm tall and 16 cm wide rock as a practice target, Curiosity will test its contact instruments: Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer for reading a target’s elemental composition and  Mars Hand Lens Imager for close-up imaging. While weird rocks shaped by wind erosion are not uncommon on Mars’ surface, this minature pyramid is probably just a rock. Spurring the imaginations of Earthlings imagining life beyond, the odd rock remains the center of speculation, especially since Curiosity’s objective is to find evidence of Mars’ capability to harbor life. Named after NASA engineer Jake Matijevic who passed away on August 20, 2012, the pyramid-shaped rock may be a impact fragment ejected into the Gale Crater. Jake Matijevic was the leading engineer in the Sojounrer, Opportunity, and Spirit missions, while surface operations systems chief engineer for the Mars Science Laboratory/ Curiosity mission.

Curiosity’s robotic arm

On September 22, 2012, Curiosity finished its inspection of the rock target. Its ChemCam lasers zapped the rock to analyze its chemical components and calibrate the instruments, marking the first use of Curiosity’s robotic arm.

References

Dicker, Ron. “Mars Rock: Curiosity Rover To Examine Pyramid-Shaped Boulder, NASA Says.” Huffington Post. Huffington Post, 23 Sep 2012. Web. 1 Oct 2012.

Greicius , Tony, ed. “Curiosity Finishes Close Inspection of Rock Target.” NASA. NASA, 24 Sep 2012. Web. 1 Oct 2012.

Greicius , Tony, ed. “NASA Mars Rover Targets Unusual Rock on Its Journey.” NASA. NASA, 19 Sep 2012. Web. 1 Oct 2012.

Curiosity: Update 1 – Zap! Poof!

ChemCam: Zapping the first Martian rock

August 19: Curiosity zaps its first Martian rock

Curiosity uses its laser for the first time to zap a rock “Coronation.” What a fitting name! Curiosity is the crowning achievement of NASA/ JPL for missions in Mars exploration in recent years. Curiosity’s ChemCam, or Chemistry and Camera equipment hit the fist-sized “Coronation” with 30 pulses (Each pulse = more than 1 million watts in five one-billionths of a second!) of laser in a 10-second period. By exciting atoms in “Coronation” into a glowing plasma, ChemCam can capture the light with a telescope and analyze the rock with three spectrometers to determine its elemental composition. If the composition changed as the pulses progressed, then dust or other surface material covered the rock. ChemCam uses laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, which can determine the composition of targets in extreme environments, such as on sea-floor, and is used in experimental applications in cancer detection and environmental monitoring. For its 2-year mission, Curiosity will continue to use its spectacular 10 instruments to determine whether Gale crater ever offered suitable environmental conditions for life.

References

Webster, Guy. “Rover’s Laser Instrument Zaps First Martian Rock.” NASA. NASA, 19 Aug 2012. Web. 20 Aug 2012.

Curiosity captured by Mars orbiter

Curiosity on Mars

Martian Rocks Zapped by Laser

Curiosity parachuting to Martian surface