New Scientist opens wide to tell us Mars Rover Curiosity is ready to drill into the Red Planet:
Chemical analysis from one of the rover’s remote-sensing cameras shows that the veins are hydrated calcium sulphates, possibly gypsum. They probably formed when water flowed through fractures in the bedrock and left dissolved material behind behind.
The find takes NASA’s mantra “follow the water” to a whole new level.
The team will use the rover’s drill for the first time on a veined outcrop named John Klein, an homage to a former project worker who died in 2011. The drill can bite about 5 centimetres into Martian rock, collect pulverised samples and deliver material to other onboard instruments for analysis.
“What we are hoping to do is get a sense of the mineralogy – how many aqueous mineral phases are present, the isotope ratios, and even a chance to look for organics,” [project scientist John] Grotzinger said.
Although initially thought too soft to preserve fossils, previous work showed that gypsum on Earth can hold traces of ancient carbon-based life.