Mars Rover Drills Into ‘Duluth’ And The Moon Joins Jupiter

Success! Engineers used a new drilling technique to grind a hole into Duluth Rock last Sunday. The hole is about 0.6 inches across and 2 inches deep. Often, drilled rock leaves gray-colored dust from volcanic material. The red color here might indicate iron oxide that formed in connection with water. NASA / JPL-Caltech

Last week, we visited the 3-foot slab of rock the Mars Curiosity rover team named “Duluth.” The rover’s drill, which bores a hole in rocks and then gathers up a sample of the tailing for analysis, has had mechanical problems since October 2016. Engineers cooked up a new way to drill called Feed Extending Drilling (FED) and tried for the first time on Duluth rock on May 20. It worked!

“Duluth” is seen in this picture taken by the hazard avoidance cameras on the rover on May 22. The arrow points to the pile of ground up rock from drilling. NASA / JPL-Caltech

This close-up image is of a 2-inch-deep hole drilled out last Sunday. It’s about 0.6 inches (1.6 centimeters) in diameter. The FED technique keeps keeps the drill’s bit extended out past two stabilizer posts that were originally used to steady the drill against Martian rocks. It lets Curiosity drill using the force of its robotic arm, a little more like a person would while drilling into a wall at home.

This isn’t a great image (raw version), but I thought you’d enjoy this May 23rd Martian sunrise (or sunset) photographed by the rover’s navigation camera. NASA / JPL-Caltech

So far, so good. In a mission update blog by Kenneth Herkenhoff, it sounds like they’re still working on getting enough material from the drill into the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument that identifies the type and amount of minerals in a sample. Because of mechanical trouble tailings can’t be fed from the drill directly into an instrument. Instead bits of soil clinging to the tip of the drill head have to be dropped off into CheMin. As of May 25, engineers couldn’t get enough material for a proper analysis, but they’re working on it.

While poking around in the Mars Curiosity mission archives I came across references to more northern Minnesota towns. In mid-April, Curiosity drove through the Biwabik Quad, named for the little town of Biwabik north of Duluth. Biwabik is connected to the Mesabi Range, an area rich in iron ore much like the iron-rich hematite region the rover explored a month ago. The rover team also selected three targets, “Ely,” Babbitt, and “Hibbing” — all named for northern Minnesota towns — to zap with its laser to determine their compositions.

Watch for two of the brightest sights in the nighttime sky to shine together in the southern sky tonight. Stellarium

Moving out to Jupiter, the next planet beyond Mars, we have a great moon-planet pairing this evening (May 27). The nearly full moon shines only about 5° to the left (east) of the mighty bright planet as soon as the sky gets dark. Don’t miss it!