The above video is another extraterrestrial first: Curiosity’s very first collection of Martian regolith via its robotic arm’s scooper, as seen from the rover’s mast camera.
“Here’s the scoop: I like my regolith shaken!” the rover’s social media team tweeted of the clip, which shows the scoop full of Mars’ topmost layer and vibrating to sort the material.
Regolith is a layer of dust, broken rock, and soil loosely covering solid rock. We get a bit of it here on Earth, and it’s also present on our own moon, some asteroids, and other planets, including Mars.
Currently, researchers are trying to find out whether or not Mars’ regolith is being shaped by groundwater sapping and whether carbon dioxide hydrates exist on the planet. The hypothesis is that water and CO2 are frozen and hidden in the regolith in large quantities, especially around the planet’s equator and at high altitudes.
This particular sample, however, will be used for cleaning bits of Curiosity’s sample-handling mechanism, with the sandy collection being vibrated inside each interior chamber and then discarded.
“The rover’s ability to put scooped and sieved samples of soil into onboard laboratory instruments is an important part of the mission,” NASA stated on the news.
“Those instruments — Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) and Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) — will play crucial roles in evaluating whether the study area has ever had a favorable environment for microbial life. Still to be used for the first time is the rover’s capability to take powdered samples from rocks, using a percussive drill, for delivery to those same instruments.”