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Posted at 12:02 PM ET, 10/12/2012

NASA: Mars rock holds ‘surprises’


An image of the rock named "Jake Matijevic." The rock was named after a well-respected member of the Curiosity rover team who died shortly after the rover landed on Mars. The red dots show where the chemistry and camera (ChemCam) instrument used its laser on Sept. 21 and Sept. 24, 2012. The black and white regions are areas where the ChemCam looked for pits left by the laser. The purple circles show where the rock was analyzed by the rover's Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS).

The first rock the Curiosity rover has touched, so to speak — is named “Jake Matijevic,” and, according to the Mars Curiosity team, it’s kind of “odd.”

The Martian rock — named after a well-respected member of the Mars Curiosity rover team who died shortly after the rover landed on the Red Planet — has features similar to igneous rocks found on Earth. It is also “high in elements consistent with the mineral feldspar, and low in magnesium and iron,” said the University of Guelph’s Ralf Gellert, the principal investigator for the rover’s alpha particle x-ray spectrometer (APXS).

The rock’s composition is notable not only because of its Martian origin, but because its similarity to “unusual” igneous rocks on Earth means that it could have been formed under similar conditions — in the presence of water-rich magma. The rock also has a more “varied composition” than scientists expected, with a different composition found at each of the 14 spots targeted by the rover’s ChemCam instrument. More tests need to be done, however, before the rock’s properties, including the presence of feldspar, can be confirmed.

The rock is the first to be analyzed by the rovers APXS instrument and, according to a Thursday release, roughly the 30th to be analyzed by the chemistry and camera (ChemCam) instrument. Analysis on the rock was conducted last month, but the most recent findings were announced Thursday. It is also the first analysis where findings from the ChemCam and APXS instruments on the same specimen can be compared.


A close-up image of the scuff mark made by one of Curiosity's wheels is seen here. The larger rocks are sediment from the surface that were displaced, falling towards the floor of the scuff made in the softer Martian soil. The dark gouge in the lower center of the image is from one of the rover's wheel treads. The full scuff mark is 20 inches. The image was taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI).

In the meantime, Curiosity continues to clean out its internal instruments in preparation for analysis of a Mars soil sample. Curiosity’s sampling-system scientist, Luther Beegle said the rover’s first scoop of soil was “perfect” for cleaning the sample-processing chambers.

The rover is still at the “Rocknest” site and is scheduled to spend roughly three weeks there.

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By  |  12:02 PM ET, 10/12/2012

 
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