Curiosity rover sets sights on bumpy Cumberland rock

This patch of bedrock, called “Cumberland,” has been selected as the second target for drilling by Curiosity. The rover will collect powdered material from inside the target rock and analyze it with laboratory instruments. Plans call for drilling in the lower right portion of the image. Scene is 10-inches (25 cm) across. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The Mars Curiosity rover team has selected a rock they’re naming Cumberland as the next drilling target for the rover. The new site lies about 9 feet (3 m) west of John Klein, where Curiosity’s bit drilled its “first bite” into Mars rock back in February.

This false-color map shows the area within Gale Crater on Mars, where the rover landed last August and the location where Curiosity collected its first drilled sample at the “John Klein” rock. An alluvial fan, or fan-shaped deposit where debris spread out downslope, has been highlighted in lighter colors for better viewing. On Earth, alluvial fans often are formed by water flowing downslope. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

Both John Klein and Cumberland belong to a geologic layer called “Sheepbed” a layer of mudstone that likely formed a couple billion years ago when streams carrying rocks and mud flowed down the wall of Gale Crater and deposited their burden in a broad alluvial fan. After the streams dried up, the material gradually became compacted into  rock; a couple billion year’s later a robotic emissary arrived to piece together the story using with a drill, oven and lasers.

Wide-angle view taken by one of Curiosity’s hazard-avoidance cameras yesterday May 10 shows a stretch of flat, broken rock in Yellowknife Bay, location of the John Kline and Cumberland rocks. Mt. Sharp looms in the distance. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

What we know so far is this: John Klein is made of fine-grained mudstone containing clay minerals, sulfate minerals and elements to afford a microbe a happy home. Scientists found sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon in the powder – all  This ancient wet environment, unlike some others on Mars, was not harshly oxidizing, acidic or extremely salty but close to neutral, comparable to many water environments on Earth.

Although Cumberland and John Klein are very similar – they’re flat (safe for drilling), criss-crossed by lighter-colored mineral veins and bumpy –  Cumberland appears to have more of the erosion-resistant granules that cause the surface bumps.

“The bumps are concretions, or clumps of minerals, which formed when water soaked the rock long ago,” according to a NASA press release.

Close-up of one of the drill holes in John Klein rock photographed on May 10. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Sometime in the next few days mission control will direct the rover to the new drilling site and retrieve and analyze a sample of the powdered rock. Not long after, Curiosity will set its sights on the main mission target – the clay-laced slopes of Mt. Sharp, a 3-mile-tall (5 km) mountain inside the crater.

Although the rover’s prime mission lasts 2 years, its plutonium-powered generators have a minimum lifetime of 14 years. Provided Curiosity doesn’t hit a snag, we’ll be raking in the data and rock powder for years to come.

One thought on “Curiosity rover sets sights on bumpy Cumberland rock

  1. Aww! Cumberlandite. This is what it’s all about. We have ancient building marked with egg shaped Cumberlandite keystones. The Cumberlandite is placed symbolically. Wherein the nooks, when perfectly aligned; during winter solice; you see Venus shining through. And they act like we didn’t know that Cumberlandite was on Mars. Life on Mars was then and still is today. We just haven’t shared it with the world yet.
    Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus….
    Ring any bells?

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