In hunt for life, NASA rover makes second drill on Mars

Robotic rover Curiosity works to analyze powdered rock samples

NASA's rover Curiosity has drilled into a rock on Mars for just the second time during its mission.

Curiosity on Sunday used its robotic arm to drill into a rock dubbed "Cumberland" to collect a powdered sample from inside the rock that will be delivered to the rover's onboard science instruments over the next several days.

This is only the second time that a sample has been collected from inside a rock on Mars, according to the space agency.

In March, NASA reported that Curiosity, in its first rock drilling on Mars, found evidence that the Red Planet could have supported life in the distant past.

Analysis from that first drilling on Feb. 8 showed that it contained sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon - all key chemical ingredients for life.

That initial finding was a huge coup for for NASA, which sent the super rover Curiosity to Mars last year to seek evidence that the planet might have supported life, even in microbial form, at some point.

On Monday, NASA reported that its scientists expect to use the analysis coming from this second drilling to backup or dispute the earlier drill findings.

After making a few more observations at its current site, Curiosity is expected to begin what NASA calls a "months-long trek" to the base of Mount Sharp, which is in the middle of the crater where Curiosity landed last August. Mount Sharp has been a key spot for Curiosity's work, with scientists focused on moving the car-sized, nuclear-powered machine there from the very beginning of its two-year mission on the Red Planet.

It is equipped with 10 scientific instruments and offers the most advanced payload of scientific gear ever used on the surface of Mars, including chemistry instruments, environmental sensors and radiation monitors.

Curiosity drilling
NASAs Mars rover Curiosity has drilled into a Martian rock for just the second time, taking a powdered sample that will be analyzed this week. Image: NASA

This article, In hunt for life, NASA rover makes second drill on Mars, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at  @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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