NASA has released a self-portrait of Curiosity, showing a full view of the Pahrump Hills sites where the rover has been working for the last five months. The mosaic view includes a look at the Telegraph Peak site where the rover has just begun drilling, analyzing the chemistry of the rocks and soil.
The latest Curiosity selfie was taken next to the Mojave drilling site in January, with the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on the rover’s robotic arm used to take dozens of snaps to form a mosaic image. More eagle-eyed observers may notice that the arm itself is not in the shot, a feat achieved by manipulating its position, then stitching together numerous shots to create the illusion that MAHLI is floating beside the rover.
The annotated version of the shot details several of the sites Curiosity has investigated during its time in Pahrump Hills area, including the Confidence Hills and Mojave drilling sites. The rover collected its second drilled sample at the Mojave site for laboratory analysis, before moving on to Telegraph Peak, where it’s currently collecting samples.
Telegraph Peak was selected as the rover’s next destination after measurements made using the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) on the rover’s arm indicated that the site was chemically interesting enough to warrant a visit.
The returned data indicated that the rocks at the new site – where Curiosity has now begun drilling – are relatively rich with the element silicon in proportion to aluminum and magnesium. A rock-powder sample was collected on February 24 and was sent to the rover’s internal Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument, where its mineral composition will be analyzed. Depending on the results of that analysis, a second sample may be sent to the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite for further study.
"When you graph the ratios of silica to magnesium and silica to aluminum, 'Telegraph Peak' is toward the end of the range we've seen," said Doug Ming of NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston. "It’s what you would expect if there has been some acidic leaching. We want to see what minerals are present where we found this chemistry."
Unlike past drilling activities undertaken since Curiosity arrived on the Red Planet in August 2012, the latest drilling operation was carried out without a “mini-drill” test being conducted first. The team assessed that due to the site’s similarity to other Pahrumps Hills locations, full-depth drilling didn’t present any significant risk to equipment.