NASA officials named the rock "Jake Matijevic
," after the surface operations systems chief engineer for both Mars Science Laboratory and the Curiosity rover project. He also was the leading engineer for all of the previous NASA Mars rovers: Sojourner and Spirit. He passed away this August 20 at age 64.
To determine the composition of the unique-shaped rock, the rover Curiosity will touch the rock with one of its six spectrometers
. Before the new rover, evidence for mineral deposits created by long-term interaction with Martian water and rock had been limited.
The NASA rover will use both the arm-mounted Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer and the mast-mounted, laser-zapping Chemistry and Camera Instrument to identify the elements in the unique rock. The purpose of using both instruments is to cross-check the rock's scientific data.
Curiosity also pointed the Mastcam at the sun and recorded images of Mars' two moons, Phobos and Deimos, who were passing in front of the sun from the rover's point of view. Data from these transit observations are part of a long-term study on changes of the two moons' orbits. This study has incorporated data from previous rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, in 2004.
Opportunity still remains on Mars with Curiosity, continuing to observe solar transits by the Mars' moons. In its observations of Phobos
, the time when the edge of the moon began overlapping the disc of the sun was predictable to within a few seconds. Uncertainty in timing is because Mars' interior structure isn't fully understood. Small changes in the shape of Mars is caused by Phobos, much in the same way Earth's moon raises the tides. The changes to Mars' shape depend on the Martian interior which, in turn, cause Phobos' orbit to decay. Timing the orbital change more precisely provides further information about Mars' interior structure.
"Phobos is in an orbit very slowly getting closer to Mars, and Deimos is in an orbit very slowly getting farther from Mars," said Curiosity's science team co-investigator Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University, College Station. "These observations
help us reduce uncertainty in calculations of the changes."
The rover Curiosity is part of a two-year mission on Mars. NASA researchers are using the rover's 10 science instruments to detect whether the selected field site inside Gale Crater has ever offered favorable environmental conditions for microbial life.
The rovers Curiosity and Opportunity continue to work in good health on the red planet.