A 2.5 inch-deep hole may seem like a small accomplishment, but it’s a first in space exploration. NASA’s Curiosity rover drilled its first hole on Mars, taking a sample from the planet’s flat red rock.
For the past 182 days, Curiosity has been wheeling around the Gale Crater, testing its instruments, making little wheel tracks in the dust, and taking self-portraits, no doubt as an homage to the Instagram generation. But researchers are primarily interested in what Mars is made of and how it was made. By analyzing Martian soil, scientists hope to find evidence of water on the planet and whether it had potentially been able to support some form of life.
The area Curiosity drilled is called Yellowknife Bay, and researchers have dubbed the rock in question “John Klein” (perhaps a loathed former boss? Who wouldn’t fantasize about drilling a hole into that guy’s head?). When Curiosity drills, the rock particles travel up the drill bit into the machine, where the rover has its own internal laboratory. It can sift out larger particles, x-ray others and even cook the material to see how it reacts to heat. Then all of the findings are beamed back to researchers on Earth.
It’s one tiny hole for Curiosity, one giant hole for Mars explorers to come.