On Thursday, we reported that the Mars Curiosity rover had begun its first drill on the Red Planet. Upon the initial report, the hole was a cylindrical spot about 0.8-inches deep and 0.6-inches across. Now NASA has announced that the drilling is complete, with the rover having bored into the Martian soil about 2.5-inches.
In particular, the location selected for drilling - Yellowknife Bay - is believed to hold evidence of water in Mars' past. The soil sample collected by the rover will be processed by the machine's instruments to see what it is composed of, with the hope being that it will show the building blocks of life. The soil will undergo to processes two determine this.
The first process is called SAM, which stands for Sample Analysis of Mars, and involves heating the soil sample to nearly 2,000-degrees Fahrenheit. This causes the powdered rock's compounds and elements to be released in the form of gas. Once this takes place, the released gases will be analyzed by a different tool, which will determine what they are comprised of and will given an approximate date of when they made their way into the rock that was drilled.
NASA's Science Mission Directorate Associated Administrator John Grunsfeld had this to say. "The most advanced planetary robot ever designed now is a fully operating analytical laboratory on Mars. This is the biggest milestone accomplishment for the Curiosity team since the sky-crane landing last August."
[via National Geographic]