Click for original image.
For the fourth time this past weekend Curiosity’s drill was unable to penetrate the hard rock of what scientists have labeled “the marker layer”, a distinct feature seen at approximately the same elevation at many places on the flanks of Mount Sharp on Mars.
The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, shows that the drill was once again only able to drill a eighth to a quarter inch, not enough to gather samples for testing.
This was our fourth attempt to drill this marker band, and we gave it our best shot from both a geology and engineering perspective. Unfortunately these rocks do not want to cooperate – they’re hard and they weather into resistant and recessive beds which make them very challenging to drill. So the team made the difficult decision to get back on the road, without a drill sample from this location
Click for interactive map.
The rover was then programmed to travel about 300 feet south to another spot on the marker layer. This new location is indicated by the blue dot on the map to the right.
Whether the science team will make another attempt to drill into this tough geological layer, indicated by the arrows on the overview map, is not clear at the moment, as the rover is now only a short distance from the southern edge of the layer. From here it could quickly climb up, continuing its journey along its planned route (as indicated by the red dotted line). I suspect, however, if the science team sees a good flat spot conducive to drilling at this location they will try again. The marker layer was one of the mission’s long term major geological targets prior to launch, and to leave it without at least one drill success would be a great disappointment.
The Curiosity team however has generally shown perseverance in these drill efforts. When Curiosity had similar drill issues as it crossed Vera Rubin ridge, the team tried and failed several times to drill, moved on off of the ridge, and then when they had another opportunity to drive downhill again to try again, they did so, finally achieving success. I suspect this determined spirit will compel them to apply the same determination here.
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