NASA rover to examine Mars rocks
Equipped with a "chemical element reader," NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity will get a close-up on the chemical ingredients in Martian rocks and soil, it was announced on Friday , Xinhua reported .
This will be a major step by scientists to identify the elemental composition of lighter elements such as sodium, magnesium or aluminum, as well as heavier elements like iron, nickel or zinc in the building blocks of the Martian crust, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said.
The "chemical element reader" -- the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) -- is one of 10 instruments to be carried by Curiosity on its upcoming mission scheduled between Nov. 25 and Dec. 18, 2011, with landing in August 2012, said JPL, Pasadena, Los Angeles.
The mission will help scientists determine the past and present habitability of a specific area on the Red Planet, JPL said.
By comparing these findings with those of previous Mars rover findings, scientists can determine if any weathering has taken place since the rock formed ages ago, JPL said in a press release.
The APXS uses the power of alpha particles, or helium nuclei, and X-rays to bombard a target, causing the target to give off its own characteristic alpha particles and X-ray radiation. This radiation is "read by" an X-ray detector inside the sensor head, which reveals which elements and how much of each are in the rock or soil, according to JPL.
All NASA Mars rovers have carried a similar instrument -- Pathfinder's rover Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity, and now Curiosity, too. Improvements have been made with each generation, but the basic design of the instrument has remained the same, according to JPL.
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory mission for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington.