NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover departed from a pre-laid course to explore a rock like that he had never seen on Mars before.
Measurements made by Curiosity using a ChemCam laser and other tools have shown that the target rock (called Elk) contains a lot of silicon dioxide and hydrogen.
On Earth, silicon-oxygen compounds are commonly found in the form of quartz. It is assumed that compounds found on Mars can provide favorable conditions for the preservation of ancient carbon-containing organic molecules, if they exist there. So the Curiosity operators sent the rover back 151 feet (46 meters) to test the Elk.
"No one knows what to expect on Mars, but the Elk rock was interesting enough to change course and explore it with the help of ChemCam," said Roger Wins, principal investigator at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
Elk is located near the lower Sharp mountain height (5.5 km). These lower courses are called Marias Pass, this is the breed that Curiosity mined, studied by researchers. Marias Pass is the “geological zone of contact” and there is often dark sandstone with light mudstone. “We found part of the surface called Missoula. There, two types of rocks came together, but it was a very small area and it was too close to the surface,” said Curiosity project scientist Ashwin Vashavada, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California "We used a robotic arm to capture the required view with the MAHLI (thermal imager lens), we poked our cameras, right into the crevice."
ChemCam shot Elk Rock on top of a small hill not far from Marias Pass, which is where Curiosity found the contact area. After inspecting the Missoula surface, the 1-ton all-terrain vehicle began to move forward, but ChemCam’s data analysis convinced the team to turn the Curiosity back in order to take a closer look at the Elk, the rest of the team said.
“ChemCam works like the eyes and ears of our rover for nearby objects,” said Vince.
While Curiosity was collecting data, the mission’s engineers continued to investigate the short circuit that occurred in the sampling drill in February. No short-circuits occurred during technical tests on July 18th. The Curiosity team plans to conduct a series of drilling tests on the rocks in the near future, NASA officials said. Curiosity has been exploring the Gale Mars crater (154 km wide) for nearly three years. The six-wheeled robot landed on the night of August 5, 2012 with a mission to determine whether the Gale crater supports the conditions necessary for microbial life. Curiosity scientists answered this question at the very beginning of the mission. It was discovered that the Gale crater harbored an extensive system of lakes and streams that could sustain microbes if such organisms ever developed on the Red Planet.