TG

Washington

Nasa’s Curiosity rover used its inbuilt ‘selfie stick’ to capture this 360 degree image of itself sitting in the Marias Pass region of Mars. The robot has been in the area drilling into rock dubbed ‘buckskin’ to investigate the chemical make-up of the red planet and is currently analysing samples in its internal laboratories.

Curiosity initially noted the area was high in silica and hydrogen on May 21 while climbing to a site and turned round to have a closer look.

After drilling into the rock it used the camera on its robotic arm to capture multiple images which were stitched together into a self-portrait at the drilling site. Since it landed in August 2012, the probe has travelled 6.9 miles across the surface of Mars. It is in a deep bowl known as Gale Crater.

At the centre of the depression is a huge mountain, informally called Mount Sharp. Curiosity is currently climbing through its foothills, examining the rocks as it goes.

Early results show that the samples collected by Curiosity contain high levels of silica and more hydrogen than anywhere else visited so far. Silica is a rock-forming compound containing silicon and oxygen, commonly found on Earth as quartz. High levels of silica in the rock could indicate ideal conditions for preserving ancient organic material, if present, so the science team has been keen to take a closer look. And high levels of hydrogen suggest more water than elsewhere.

“The ground about one metre beneath the rover in this area holds three or four times as much water as the ground anywhere else Curiosity has driven during its three years on Mars,” said DAN Principal Investigator Igor Mitrofanov of Space Research Institute, Moscow.

Buckskin was the first rock drilled by Curiosity since an electrical circuit in the drill’s percussion mechanism exhibited a small, transient short circuit in February during transfer of sample powder from the third target drilled in the Pahrump Hills area. ‘We were pleased to see no repeat of the short circuit during the Buckskin drilling and sample transfer,’ said Steven Lee, deputy project manager for Curiosity at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

‘It could come back, but we have made changes in fault protection to continue safely drilling even in the presence of small shorts.’