The Mars rover Curiosity has successfully scooped its first solid soil sample into an analysis instrument, Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced Thursday.
Containing roughly the amount of material as in a baby aspirin, the sample will be analyzed by the rover's Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument to determine what minerals it contains.
"We are crossing a significant threshold for this mission by using CheMin on its first sample," Curiosity's project scientist, John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said in a JPL press release.
"This instrument gives us a more definitive mineral-identifying method than ever before used on Mars: X-ray diffraction. Confidently identifying minerals is important because minerals record the environmental conditions under which they form."
The sample comes from the third scoop collected by Curiosity, from a windblown patch of dusty sand called "Rocknest." The rover's robotic arm delivered the sample to CheMin's opened inlet funnel on the rover's deck on Oct. 17, the press release states.
A few small bits of light-toned material on the ground at Rocknest have affected the rover's activities during the past several days. One piece, about half an inch long, was noticed on Oct. 7. The rover team investigated the object, postponing the use of the robotic arm for two days. The team assessed it to be debris from the spacecraft.
"We plan to learn more both about the spacecraft material and about the smaller, bright particles," Curiosity Project Manager Richard Cook of JPL said in a prepared statement.
"We will finish determining whether the spacecraft material warrants concern during future operations. The native Mars particles become fodder for the mission's scientific studies."
During the two-year mission, researchers are using Curiosity's 10 instruments to assess whether the study area has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life. For more about Curiosity, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/msl ,http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/msl and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl .