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Curiosity considers first dig into Windjana, the sands(tone) of Mars

Robotic rover moves on to sand from mud

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NASA's Curiosity rover has been doing some Martian house cleaning, brushing down a potential new target for its drilling tools.

Windjana

Curiosity gets sweeping ahead of a possible drill-down

The rock formation, dubbed Windjana, is a sandstone formation about two feet across that the rover has trundled up to on its way to Mount Sharp. The rock is part of an layer of material exposed by wind erosion and is the first mineral Curiosity has investigated for drilling that isn't made up of mudstone.

"We want to learn more about the wet process that turned sand deposits into sandstone here," said Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "What was the composition of the fluids that bound the grains together? That aqueous chemistry is part of the habitability story we're investigating."

Curiosity's route to Windjana

Curiosity's route to Windjana (center bottom red dot)

As well is looking for fluids, the NASA team is trying to understand the geology of the Gale crater Curiosity is now traversing. Besides understanding the geology of the Martian surface more fully, the results could give clues as to where Curiosity should head to after it has reached its next waypoint.

The exposed and eroded nature of the rock means that the NASA team will be able to get access to older rocks than are found on the surface. If the team does decide to use its impact drill on Windjana (which was informally named after a remote Australian gorge) the samples will be ferried back into the body of the rover for spectrographic analysis. ®

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