Curiosity Finds Bright Object In First Scoop Of Martian Soil
The Los Angeles Times reported that NASA scientists applauded when the rover made its first scoop, a crucial element of its ability to complete its primary mission to test whether Mars could ever have supported microbial life.
From The Los Angeles Times:
"There was a lot of clapping yesterday, probably the most since landing, when we saw a nice full pile of soil in the scoop," Vasavada said. "It looks and acts a lot like baking flour. And just like any baker, we shook the scoop to make sure we had a nice level spoonful. This also mixes up the soil for us, to ensure a good analysis."
First, the scientists searched images of Mars for "a nice pile of soil," the scientist explained. They found it at a spot in Mars' Gale Crater called Rocknest. On Sunday, they began their work.
Scientists had been preparing to test out Curiosity's scoop and its cleaning system in order to gear up for more extensive sampling of the red planet’s soil.
The sampling system works by collecting soil scuffed by the rover’s wheels, then separating it into four parts and subjecting the soil to analysis with a number of sensitive instruments.
The test of the process also caused a bit of stir with reporters when a small, unusually bright object was spotted in the soil next to the scoop, leading to speculation about what it was. An official statement from NASA, however, claimed the object was likely just a bit of plastic that had fallen off the rover itself.
Curiosity has been on Mars since early August and landed in the Gale Crater, which was selected for its evidence of possible past presence of water.
In late September, the rover found the first definitive evidence of water once existing on Mars in the form of rounded pebbles found in concrete-like rocks, which scientists claimed suggested a waist-high water flow in the area.
In the meantime, NASA has been promoting Curiosity's discoveries using the Twitter account @MarsCuriosity, which tweets from the rover’s perspective with tongue-in-cheek messages like: “So excited to dig in! One scoop of regolith ripple, coming right up!”
By Wednesday, Curiosity’s test of its scoop system was finished, announced with the tweet: “A scoopful of Mars helps the science go down. Ready to "rinse & spit" regolith to clean my sampling system.”