Scoop Marks in Rocknest Sand
The Curiosity rover took soil samples from an area called "Rocknest." The team chose this area because it lies in a flat part of the Gale Crater. This specific sample came from a drift of windblown dust. This particular photo shows the third (left) and fourth (right) scoops, each 1.6-inches wide.
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NASA confirmed last week that the latest soil samples from the Curiosity rover did not contain an "earth-shaking" discovery. Today, the agency unveiled the test results from those samples during a press conference at Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.
Curiosity rover retrieved its first soil sample using its new Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, a tool that is capable of identifying organic compounds. However, this initial sample does not reveal any such compound.
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"We have no definitive detection of Martian organics at this point, but we will keep looking in the diverse environments of Gale Crater," says SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
Curiosity is the first of the rovers that has been able to scoop soil into analytical instruments. Using her robotic arm, Curiosity dug up five scoopfuls of material from a patch of dusty sand called Rocknest. The rover then delivered those samples to an onboard chemistry lab for testing.
The data shows that Martian soil is a complex makeup of water, sulfur and chlorine-containing substances. The samples' composition is about half common volcanic minerals and half non-crystalline materials such as glass.
"We used almost every part of our science payload examining this drift," says Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger, in a press release. "The synergies of the instruments and richness of the data sets give us great promise for using them at the mission's main science destination on Mount Sharp."
In November, the world was buzzing after Grotzinger’s interview with NPR led to reports that the rover’s latest soil samples contained a groundbreaking discovery. But as Mashable first reported earlier this week, those reports were just rumors.
However, as Grotzinger points out, that doesn't mean that there isn't a major discovery in the rover's future.
“Curiosity’s mission is producing a unprecedented volume of valuable science data,” Grotzinger told Mashable last week via email. “Much of this will help us better glimpse the very ancient environments of Mars, that are regarded to have been the most habitable in the planet’s history. We have only just started on this journey back in time.”
Curiosity rover is just a few months into a two-year mission Mars. The ultimate goal is to assess whether areas inside the Gale Crater were ever habitable.
Are you disappointed the Curiosity rover hasn't yet discovered organic compounds on Mars? Tell us in the comments below.
This story originally published on Mashable here.