Curiosity Rover Drills into ‘Telegraph Peak’

Cassandra Vella/Staff Reporter

On Feb. 24, 2015 NASA’s Curiosity rover drilled into a rock target to collect rock powder samples from “Telegraph Peak.” The mission has been looking into the “Pahrump Hills” outcrop area for five months and finally gave the rover command to drill for samples.

The rover has drilled at two other sites in the Pahrump Hills mission campaign. Pahrump Hills is an area of bedrock on the surface that has developed into the basal layer of Mount Sharp. Since Curiosity’s mission was given the two-year extension in 2014, NASA has been working to examine the layers of Mount Sharp to look for records of past water in the environment that could have led Mars’ environment to the dry red sand it is today. Curiosity is supposed to drive through the “Artist’s Drive” Valley to get to a higher area of the basal layer of Mount Sharp.

NASA chose Telegraph Peak upon a discussion of physical and chemical measurements recorded throughout the mission campaign. Measurements of the Telegraph Peak area with Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS), with the rover’s arm, have helped in targeting areas for drilling even before the Pahrump Hills samples. The samples from Curiosity prior to Mount Sharp have shown levels of elements much lower than those found in the Pahrump Hills areas. Pahrump Hills seems to be filled with silicon, aluminum, and magnesium. The Telegraph Peak drills have been said to show even higher amounts of the elements. Scientists have compared the amounts to acidic leaching on earth – a strong loss or removal of solid materials into liquid solvents, such as the processes when metals are extracted from ore fresh from a mine without being crushed or pressurized. The samples from Telegraph Peak go to the rover’s own Chemistry and Mineralogy instruments (CheMin) to determine the minerals found in the rocks and then, based on the analysis, scientists choose whether or not for the rover to deliver the samples to its Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite of further scientific instruments.

Telegraph Peak’s drilling sample was the first Mars sample taken without using a “mini- drill” before drilling. The mini- drill is usually used in order for the rover to test the rock’s stability and how it would hold up to central drilling. This sample collection had skipped the preliminary step because the scientists had determined that this area had the same characteristic as the previous drilling targets at Pahrump Hills. The drilling technique that Curiosity had utilized was a low-percussion-level drilling technique that had also used for the last drilling target at “Mojave 2.”

After two years of studying areas within Mars’ Gale Crater, the rover has finally reached the base of Mount Sharp in the center of the crater. Telegraph Peak is the rover’s third drilling project at Mount Sharp’s base. Scientists hope for more drillings based on the chemistry measurements they have found and what they hope to find in the near future. Curiosity is on its way towards Artist’s Drive to continue sampling around Mount Sharp.