In between conducting scientific experiments on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity rover paused to take a selfie.
It’s really 57 images stitched together from its location in the Glen Etive region, taken October 11. Behind the rover is a vista including its previous locations, such as Vera Rubin Ridge and the northern rim of Gale Crater.
While investigating this “clay-bearing unit,” Curiosity was able to conduct its second chemistry experiment since landing on Mars in 2012. The rover drilled into rocks, collecting the powder they gave off and then gobbled them up.
In reality, the rover dropped the samples in its Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM), a portable lab where its “stomach” would be. There are individual cups inside the lab to test samples. Like an Easy Bake oven, the lab heats up the samples and then checks the gases coming off of them to learn about the planet’s chemical components and the planet’s history.
There are 74 cups for samples, but nine of them are ready with solvent so Curiosity can also conduct wet chemistry experiments. Given how few there are, the scientists wanted to wait for special samples to test. The solvent in these nine cups can detect organic compounds that are also key to life.
This clay sample seemed like the perfect choice to scientists because clay rocks can contain chemical compounds. The compounds could help determine what the climate on Mars used to be like and how it changed.
“We’ve been eager to find an area that would be compelling enough to do wet chemistry,” said Paul Mahaffy, principal investigator of the portable lab at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “Now that we’re in the clay-bearing unit, we’ve finally got it.”
Scientists should know the results of the experiment next year. This marks the first time the rover has drilled a sample and put it in a wet chemistry experiment cup. A previous wet chemistry experiment used sand.
“SAM’s data is extremely complex and takes time to interpret,” Mahaffy said. “But we’re all eager to see what we can learn from this new location, Glen Etive.”