Curiosity rover makes contact with a Mars rock named 'Jake'

The next stop for the Mars rover: an intriguing mystery rock in the Mars Yellowknife sector that has the ability to retain daytime heat long into the night.

REUTERS/NASA/JPL-Caltech
The robotic arm of the Mars rover Curiosity touches it's first Mars rock (aka Jake) with the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer instrument on Sept. 22, 2012. The rover placed the instrument onto the rock to assess what chemical elements were present in the rock.

The Curiosity rover has reached out and made personal contact with a Martian rock. Last week, the Mars rover team decided to inch closer to the nearby rock, believed to be a good bet for first-ever tests of Curiosity’s “contact instruments,” according to NASA.

The rock, like so much else within Curiosity’s purview, has been given a name: Jake Matijevic. Matijevic was a legendary engineer at JPL who recently died, said the rover project’s Ashwin Vasavada in an interview Monday with the Los Angeles Times.

“In the last few days, the rover has been analyzing Jake Matijevic,” Vasavada said. “After searching for a few days, we found this rock that had all the characteristics necessary to cross-compare the measurements from our arm-mounted instruments with those of the mast-mounted instruments.”

The Curiosity Twitter account put it more simply: “I did a science!”

So said the photo from @MarsCuriosity posted Saturday afternoon on Twitter showing first contact.

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The arm-mounted Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer and the “mast-mounted, laser-zapping” Chemistry and Camera Instrument are expected to be used for examining Jake, according to NASA, which will then cross-check results from the two instruments.

Next?

“The next near-term objective is to find a patch of loose soil that will be used to test our scooping ability and to clean off our sampling tools,” said Vasavada, deputy project scientist with the Curiosity team.

Meanwhile, the team keeps the larger Martian picture in clear sight.

“These near-term objectives will help us get ready for our first major science target, the light-toned fractured unit at Glenelg,” Vasavada said. “We hope to reach there within the next month or two.”

There are three kinds of terrain that intersect at Glenelg, says NASA, and one is lighter in tone. The light-toned area presents an intriguing mystery as it has the ability to retain daytime heat long into the night. The rover team wants to choose a rock at Glenelg and use the rover to drill into its interior and analyze the powder it gathers.

“Curiosity’s science team mapped the region around Mount Sharp into a series of quadrangles prior to landing,” Vasavada said. “Both our landing site and Glenelg are within the Yellowknife quadrangle, named for the Canadian city that is the jumping-off point for expeditions that study the oldest rocks in North America.”

Glenelg and other features within Yellowknife on Mars, he said, are named for the geologically famous rock outcrops around the Yellowknife area on Earth.

Here’s more on Matijevic, who is now immortalized on Mars.

Jake Matijevic was the surface operations systems chief engineer for Mars Science Laboratory and the Curiosity rover. He died Aug. 20, at age 64, according to NASA. He also was a leading engineer for all of the previous NASA Mars rovers: Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity. A recent obituary said Matijevic had suffered throughout his life with asthma and upper respiratory ailments.

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