NASA's Mars rover Curiosity used its drill to generate this ring of powdered rock for inspection (credit NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Mars Curiosity rover performs mini drill test

The Curiosity rover has drilled a test hole in a Martian rock in preparation for the real thing.

Images released by Nasa showed a ring of powder which was generated by the drill at the end of the rover's robotic arm. The hole measured less than an inch deep.

Scientists plan to analyse the latest activity – dubbed a "mini drill test" – before commanding Curiosity to drill deeper.

One of its major tasks is to drill into a rock and transfer the ground-up powder to its onboard laboratories for analysis – a first on Mars.

The drill on Nasa's Mars rover Curiosity used both percussion and rotation to bore about 0.8in (2cm) into a rock on Mars and generate cuttings for evaluation in advance of the rover's first sample-collection drilling.

If the drill cuttings on the ground around the fresh hole pass visual evaluation as suitable for processing by the rover's sample handling mechanisms, the rover team plans to proceed with commanding the first full drilling in coming days.

The test was performed on a patch of flat, vein-bearing rock called "John Klein", with the locations of earlier percussion-only testing and planned sample-collection drilling also being on John Klein.

Pre-drilling observations of this rock yielded indications of one or more episodes of wet environmental conditions. 

The team plans to use Curiosity's laboratory instruments to analyse sample powder from inside the rock to learn more about the site's environmental history.

The planned full drilling will be the first rock drilling on Mars to collect a sample of material for analysis.

Curiosity landed in an ancient crater, the Gale Crater, near the Martian equator last year on a mission to gauge whether environmental conditions were favourable for microbial life.

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