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The Curiosity Rover and the Mars Science Lab it conveys continue to creep across a quiet desert plain under the thin atmosphere of our nearest planetary neighbor. The lab is now about halfway from its touchdown point at Bradbury Landing, on its way to the first extensive research objective, Glenelg.

Along the way, NASA's Geek Hero Scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have been carefully combing every image they are getting from the elaborate array of the imaging systems on the platform, and they have found a rock they want to take a closer look at, naming the rock after a revered colleague, the late Jake Matijevic.

Follow me out into the tall grass for more speculation and observation about the unprecedented science that NASA is preparing to undertake on Mars.  

First, here is a raw photo from MSL's Mast Camera, looking to the left of the rover's direction of travel to the investigational objective at Glenelg. This helps to illustrate the enormity of the challenge facing the scientists at the JPL. As the rover creeps along at 30 or 40 meter a day they must identify the appropriate targets for the MSL's sophisticated but finitely useable instruments. The scientific investigators can only carry out so many experiments.

The first thing, then, is that the science team must examine the data from the high resolution imaging systems. The image above, from the Mast Camera looking to the left of the rover's direction of travel on Sol 41, helps illustrate how hard that must be. But, after just a few Sols of travel, NASA scientists have found that target rock, and have named the investigational target after an esteemed, late colleague. Here is that rock:

According to NASA, the science team will now perform "contact" science with this rock:
The drive by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity during the mission's 43rd Martian day, or sol, (Sept. 19, 2012) ended with this rock about 8 feet (2.5 meters) in front of the rover. The rock is about 10 inches (25 centimeters) tall and 16 inches (40 centimeters) wide. The rover team has assessed it as a suitable target for the first use of Curiosity's contact instruments on a rock. The image was taken by the left Navigation camera (Navcam) at the end of the drive.

The rock has been named "Jake Matijevic." This commemorates Jacob Matijevic (1947-2012), who was the surface operations systems chief engineer for the Mars Science Laboratory Project and the project's Curiosity rover. He was also a leading engineer for all of the previous NASA Mars rovers: Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity.

Curiosity's contact instruments are on a turret at the end of the rover's arm. They are the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer for reading a target's elemental composition and the Mars Hand Lens Imager for close-up imaging.

To my untutored eye, that rock screams "What the Hell am I doing here!" but I'm guessing that the scientists at the JPL have better informed opinions about why we should further investigate this particular lump of Mars. But these are serious scientists doing serious science. I am bracing myself for revelatory findings.

Here are my previous diaries in this series inspired by NASA's new roving science lab on Mars, listed in the order I have posted them.

Mars Curiosity Rover -- Meet the ChemCam

Ray Bradbury is Honored Today on Mars

What Curiosity Can Do, Part 2.

What Curiosity Can Do on Mars and in this Election

Will Curiosity Mission Finally Vindicate the Life Science Results from the 1976 Viking Lander?

From Mars: SAM Takes a Deep Breath and Flexes his Arm

From Mars: Here's Looking At You, Kid.

On Mars: Super Rover has X-ray Vision

On Mars: Let the Science Begin
Also, h/t to Troubadour for the excellent photo diary from the mission.

Originally posted to Astro Kos on Wed Sep 19, 2012 at 06:55 PM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech and Kossacks on Mars.

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