News / Science & Technology

Unusual Mars Rock Surprises Rover Scientists

This image shows where NASA's Curiosity rover aimed two different instruments to study a rock known as "Jake Matijevic." (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
This image shows where NASA's Curiosity rover aimed two different instruments to study a rock known as "Jake Matijevic." (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
Rosanne Skirble
The Mars rover Curiosity, now 63 days into its two-year exploration of the red planet, has analyzed a football-sized rock that NASA scientists say has some surprisingly Earth-like qualities.

Curiosity's engineers on Earth put the drilling and sampling tools on the rover's robotic arm to full use this week as they assessed the makeup of the pyramid-shaped rock. The sample is named Jake Matijevic, in honor of a senior engineer on the Curiosity team who passed away this summer.  Co-investigator Edward Stolper of the California Institute of Technology says the football-size rock is similar to a kind of igneous, or volcanic rock found on Earth.

"The composition of Jake Matijevic is a very close match to highly crystalized or fractionated magmas that occur on particular places on earth," said Stolper.


Stolper says it is difficult to conclude from this one rock whether it formed the same way such rocks formed on Earth. But he says further studies could answer that question.  

Scientists were pleased with the data they gathered from two new instruments on Curiosity - the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer and the Chemistry and Camera Instrument, called ChemCam, which shoots rock-busting laser pulses from the top of the rover’s mast.  

  • This image shows the wall of a scuff mark NASA's Curiosity made in a windblown ripple of Martian sand with its wheel.
  • This image shows where NASA's Curiosity rover aimed two different instruments to study a rock known as "Jake Matijevic." (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
  • This image shows fine sand from Mars that was filtered by NASA's Curiosity rover as part of its first "decontamination" exercise, October 10, 2012.
  • The image shows the north wall and rim of Gale Crater in the distance. The image shown here has been rotated to correct for that tilt, so that the sky is up and the ground is down.
  • The scoop on NASA's Curiosity rover shows the larger soil particles that were too big to filter through a sample-processing sieve that is porous only to particles less than 150 microns across, October 10, 2012.
  • The Mars Curiosity rover's robotic arm takes aim at Mount Sharp in a mosaic that combines navigation-camera imagery from Sols 2, 12 and 14 (Aug. 8, 18 and 20). The shadow of the rover's camera mast is visible in the center foreground.
  • A penny that is used by Curiosity to calibrate its Mars Hand Lens Imager camera. The penny is covered in Martian dust, September 9, 2012.
  • This view of the lower front and underbelly of Curiosity combines nine images taken on September 9, 2012.
  • This photo, taken by the Curiosity rover, shows the layered geology of Mars.
  • This view of three of Curiosity's wheels combines two images taken on September 9, 2012.

NASA scientists say the information from the two instruments is just a preview of things to come.  The rover also carries tools to gather and analyze soil samples.  Actually, the first samples will be used to clean off a protective film of oil - possibly bearing traces of terrestrial dust -  left on the instruments when they were assembled on Earth.  Chris Roumeliotis,  with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says it's rather like a Martian car-wash.

“The decontamination activity is extremely important because we don’t want our instruments spooked by any terrestrial contamination.  And once we clean everything we will be up and running with full capability," said Roumeliotis.

After the decontamination, the rover will be driven about 90 meters toward another rock in the Gale Crater area that's been selected as the first target for Curiosity's drill.

Over the rover's two-year mission, researchers will be studying whether this region of Mars ever had - or might still have -  conditions that could support life.

You May Like

Hezbollah Chief Says Does Not Want War But Ready for One

VOA's Jerusalem correspondent reports that with an Israeli election looming and Hezbollah's involvement in Syria, neither side appears interested in a wider conflict More

Multimedia VOA SPECIAL REPORT: Despite Danger, Best US Minds Battle Deadly Virus

Scientists at America's premier biological research center race in military confinement to find effective drugs, speedier tests and a safe vaccine amid the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history More

Kurdish Poet Battles to Defend Language, Culture

Kawa Nemir's work is an example of what he sees as an irreversible cultural and political assertiveness among Kurds in Turkey More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unresti
X
Heather Murdock
January 30, 2015 8:00 PM
Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Mobile Infrared Scanners May Help Homeowners Save Energy

Mobile photo scanners have been successfully employed for navigational purposes, such as Google Maps. Now, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the same technology could help homeowners better insulate their houses and save some money. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid