Martian Rock Too Tough To Drill Into Stumps NASA’s Curiosity Rover

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While the massive dust storm that recently engulfed the Red Planet hasn’t subsided yet, the Mars Curiosity Rover has resumed its science operations and went back to drilling and collecting samples on the Martian landscape.

The six-wheeled robot, managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, has recently received a major upgrade that finally put its drill back online, enabling it to snag its first drilled sample since 2016, the Inquisitr reported in May.

After inaugurating its brand-new percussion drilling technique on a famous slab of Martian rock — dubbed “Duluth,” after the Minnesotan port city, as previously reported by the Inquisitr — the Curiosity rover targeted another drilling site.

But this time its newly upgraded drill ran into a bit of a problem, reports CNET.

It seems that NASA’s robot has stumbled upon a Martian rock too tough for its drill and which relentlessly refused to give up a drilled sample. The “disappointing” incident was detailed by Curiosity team member Mark Salvatore in a JPL blog post documenting the daily goings-on of the Mars rover.

According to the accounts, Curiosity’s rover functioned up to par, with no technical difficulty being reported. However, the drilling activity failed to obtain a rock sample for subsequent study.

“Due to the impressive hardness of the rock,” the rover’s drill was unable to dig deep enough to produce the adequate amount of drilled material that constitutes a full sample, explained Salvatore.

“All evidence suggests that this rock target is one of the hardest yet observed in Gale Crater,” the scientist pointed out.

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Just like the Martian “Duluth,” this stubborn piece of rock that has put the Curiosity rover’s drill to shame is also found along the Vera Rubin Ridge on Mount Sharp inside the Gale Crater. The rock was first mentioned in the blog on July 12, or Sol 2109, when the rover reached its newly-selected drilling target.

Its location had been mapped in 2011 and 2012, during the time between Curiosity’s launch and its landing on Mars, and was found to be associated with a very strong hematite signature — a reddish-black mineral consisting of ferric oxide.

The rock was given the name “Voyageurs,” after a National Park in northern Minnesota, Curiosity team member Abigail Fraeman noted in the JPL blog post from Sol 2109.

“I love this name because it reminds me we truly are a team of voyagers, participating in a mission of exploration and discovery,” Fraeman wrote on July 12, adding that “the data we collect from this sample will help us better understand the environments that shaped Mt. Sharp over time.”

Surely enough, the drilling at “Voyageurs” began the very next day, with the goal to continue operations through the weekend. However, the Curiosity team reported on July 16 that the Martian rock was too hard to penetrate with the rover’s drill.

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Salvatore presented the operation’s conclusions on July 17, or Sol 2114. The scientists have yet to determine whether “Voyageurs” is a geological oddity in the area or a clear taste of what this entire section of Vera Rubin Ridge will be like from a drilling standpoint.

“It is important for us to further characterize and understand why this rock unit is so much harder than the underlying rocks within the Murray formation,” said Salvatore, referring to a rock formation on the lower slopes of Mount Sharp, where “Duluth” is located.