On February 7, we reported that NASA's Curiosity rover had successfully drilled into the Martian soil for the first time ever, making a small hole and acquiring a sample of the rock. The sample was to then be transferred to the robot's on-board laboratory, where it would undergo a process that allowed its properties to be analyzed, something that is successfully underway.
The announcement came earlier today from NASA, which confirmed that Curiosity is analyzing a sample of soil approximately 1 tablespoon in quantity. The drilling was successfully completed despite concerns over a known flaw with the device that had the potential to severely damage the robot. If the drilling mechanism broke while boring into the Martian rock, the results could have been a complete short-circuiting of the device's electrical system. Fortunately, the process did not harm the robot, and the project was successfully completed.
The process is both extensive and rather simple. The soil will first undergo Simple Analysis of Mars, SAM for short, which will heat the soil to almost 2000-degrees Fahrenheit and release the rock's elements and compounds into a gas. After this, the second process will be initiated, with the gas being analyzed to see what it is made of, as well as providing an approximate date for when the compounds entered the rock.
Scientists will now spend the next several weeks analyzing the soil results from Curiosity to determine both its mineral and chemical properties, according to NASA. In other news, earlier this month, the robot snapped a picture of what appeared to be a piece of metal protruding from the ground. Although they aren't certain, scientists think it is exposed ore or a piece of meteorite.
[via Associated Press]