[meteorite-list] NASA Mars Rover Curiosity Tastes Scooped, Sieved Sand
From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Fri, 22 Jan 2016 15:44:23 -0800 (PST)
NASA Mars Rover Curiosity Tastes Scooped, Sieved Sand
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
January 21, 2016
At its current location for inspecting an active sand dune, NASA's Curiosity
Mars rover is adding some sample-processing moves not previously used
Sand from the second and third samples the rover is scooping from "Namib
Dune" will be sorted by grain size with two sieves. The coarser sieve
is making its debut, and using it also changes the way the treated sample
is dropped into an inlet port for laboratory analysis inside the rover.
Positioning of the rover to grab a bite of the dune posed a challenge,
too. Curiosity reached this sampling site, called "Gobabeb," on Jan. 12.
"It was pretty challenging to drive into the sloping sand and then turn
on the sand into the position that was the best to study the dunes," said
Michael McHenry of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
He is the Curiosity mission's campaign rover planner for collecting these
Curiosity has scooped up sample material at only one other site since
it landed on Mars in August 2012. It sampled dust and sand at a windblown
drift site called "Rocknest" in October and November 2012. Between there
and Gobabeb, the rover collected sample material for analysis at nine
rock targets, by drilling rather than scooping.
The mission's current work is the first close-up study of active sand
dunes anywhere other than Earth. Namib and nearby mounds of dark sand
are part of the "Bagnold Dune Field," which lines the northwestern flank
of a layered mountain where Curiosity is examining rock records of ancient
environmental conditions on Mars. Investigation of the dunes is providing
information about how wind moves and sorts sand particles in conditions
with much less atmosphere and less gravity than on Earth.
Sand in dunes has a range of grain sizes and compositions. Sorting by
wind will concentrate certain grain sizes and compositions, because composition
is related to density, based on where and when the wind has been active.
The Gobabeb site was chosen to include recently formed ripples. Information
about these aspects of Mars' modern environment may also aid the mission's
interpretation of composition variations and ripple patterns in ancient
sandstones that formed from wind or flowing water.
Curiosity scooped its first dune sample on Jan. 14, but the rover probed
the dune first by scuffing it with a wheel. "The scuff helped give us
confidence we have enough sand where we're scooping that the path of the
scoop won't hit the ground under the sand," McHenry said.
That first scoop was processed much as Rocknest samples were: A set of
complex moves of a multi-chambered device on the rover's arm passed the
material through a sieve that screened out particles bigger than 150 microns
(0.006 inch); some of the material that passed the sieve was dropped into
laboratory inlet ports from a "portioner" on the device; material blocked
by the sieve was dumped onto the ground.
The portioner is positioned directly over an opened inlet port on the
deck of the rover to drop a portion into it when the processing device
is vibrating and a release door is opened. Besides analyzing samples delivered
to its internal laboratory instruments, Curiosity can use other instruments
to examine sample material dumped onto the ground.
Curiosity collected its second scoop of Gobabeb on Jan. 19. This is when
the coarser sieve came into play. It allows particles up to 1 millimeter
(1,000 microns or 0.04 inch) to pass through.
Sand from the second scoop was initially fed to the 150-micron sieve.
Material that did not pass through that sieve was then fed to the 1-millimeter
sieve. The fraction routed for laboratory analysis is sand grains that
did not pass through the finer sieve, but did pass through the coarser
"What you have left is predominantly grains that are smaller than 1 millimeter
and larger than 150 microns," said JPL's John Michael Morookian, rover
planning team lead for Curiosity.
This fraction is dropped into a laboratory inlet by the scoop, rather
than the portioner. Morookian decribed this step: "We start the vibration
and gradually tilt the scoop. The material flows off the end of the scoop,
in more of a stream than all at once."
Curiosity reached the base of Mount Sharp in 2014 after fruitfully investigating
outcrops closer to its landing site and then trekking to the layered mountain.
On the lower portion of the mountain, the mission is studying how Mars'
ancient environment changed from wet conditions favorable for microbial
life to harsher, drier conditions. For more information about Curiosity,
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
guy.webster at jpl.nasa.gov
Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
NASA Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726 / 202-358-1077
dwayne.c.brown at nasa.gov / laura.l.cantillo at nasa.gov
Received on Fri 22 Jan 2016 06:44:23 PM PST