Curiosity rover snaps new selfie while conducting a chemistry experiment

Pablo Tucker
October 28, 2019

It is the first time that Nasa has asked the rover to conduct a chemistry experiment in the Glen Etive area of Mars, and only the second time it has performed the work at all.

"The heart of the SMS is a carousel containing 74 sample cups in two concentric rings".

On September 24, 2019, Curiosity carried out a chemistry experiment on a powderized sample from Glen Etive 2.

SAM then heats the samples, "sniffing" the gases that bake off, looking for chemicals that hold clues about the Martian environment billions of years ago.

Once extracted, the samples are crushed with the drill and taken to the portable laboratory that carries it in the rover, the sample analysis at Mars (SAM).

These chemicals make it easier for SAM to detect particular carbon-based molecules important to the formation of alien life, called organic compounds.

Glen Etive marks the second time Curiosity has performed wet chemistry since touching down on Mars in August 2012.

SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, US, said: 'We've been eager to find an area that would be compelling enough to do wet chemistry. "Now that we are in the clay-bearing unit, we finally have it". The clay-bearing unit, where Curiosity is now investigating, is such an area because clay-based rocks retain chemical compounds well. But in this case the scientists made a decision to use a limited agent - one of the nine cups filled with a powerful solvent.

The science team is intrigued to see if any organic compounds - the building blocks of life - have been preserved in the rocks at Glen Etive.

They built upon the valuable dress rehearsal at Ogunquit Beach in Maine, Connecticut in the United States to make adjustments that improved the recent experiment.

Unfortunately, we will not see the results of the Curiosity experiment until next year.

"SAM's data is extremely complex and takes time to interpret", according to Mahaffy.

In the image, in front of the rover, two holes in the ground can be seen - the one on the right is named Glen Etive 1 and on the left is Glen Etive 2. The images are stitched together into a panorama; the robotic arm isn't visible in the parts of the images used in the composite.

The rover snapped the 57 images used for the selfie on October 11 and NASA released the final panoramic image on Thursday. As an aside, the six wheels now on the Mars 2020 rover are placeholders, as the actual wheels for the mission won't be installed until next year. Behind the rover is a vista including its previous locations, such as Vera Rubin Ridge and the northern rim of Gale Crater.

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