NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover drilled into its second rock on Sunday in its first major activity since emerging from a month-long hibernation.
The latest Mars rover bored 2.6 inches into a rock, named Cumberland, to retrieve a powdered sample, which will be delivered to Curiosity’s onboard science instruments for analysis.
The first drilling took place in February on a rock called “John Klein.” The resulting rock sample revealed that ancient Mars may have been able to support microbial life. The finding was groundbreaking, meaning the mission team wants to confirm it.
NASA officials wrote during a mission update on Monday, “The science team expects to use analysis of material from Cumberland to check findings from John Klein.”
The six-wheeled Curiosity rover, the most technologically advanced so far, touched down on the Red Planet in August. Since then, the one-ton robot has put 2,300 feet on its odometer, inching closer and closer to its destination: the base of Mount Sharp. The formation is a mysterious mountain. It rises 3.4 miles into the Martian sky from the center of the Gale Crater.
Curiosity is slated to head off to Mount Sharp’s base after it analyzes the sample from Cumberland and wraps up a few other science operations in the area. The mysterious land formation is believed to be a key to scientists in understanding Mars’ history. The mountain’s foothills show signs of past exposure to water.
Second rock target drilling complete! Looks a lot like the first use. (Well, you know the drill.) twitter.com/MarsCuriosity/…
— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) May 20, 2013
Scientists also hope that Curiosity will be able to read into Mars’ environmental history as it climbs the layers the mountain’s lower reaches are made from. The rover’s five-mile trip to Mount Sharp will likely take months, as Curiosity’s top speed on a flat surface is about 0.09 miles per hour.
NASA’s Curiosity rover mission will take two years and will hopefully provide some keys into the Red Planet’s past. The rock drill of Cumberland may provide some clues as well.