NASA's Curiosity rover began the next phase of its science mission on September 24. The roving laboratory drilled about 2.6 inches into a basalt outcropping on Mount Sharp. Scientists hope that the different layers of the mountain will shed light on the geological history of Mars and hint at when conditions would have allowed for life to exist.
"This drilling target is at the lowest part of the base layer of the mountain, and from here we plan to examine the higher, younger layers exposed in the nearby hills," said Curiosity Deputy Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of JPL. "This first look at rocks we believe to underlie Mount Sharp is exciting because it will begin to form a picture of the environment at the time the mountain formed, and what led to its growth."
After completing its initial science mission, Curiosity made a beeline for Mount Sharp. Curiosity landed in Yellowknife Bay in March of 2012, and quickly discovered evidence of ancient water and concluded that the environment was ripe for microbial life. Scientists sacrificed making stops on the way to allow more time to study the Martian mountain. Curiosity made a five-mile trip that took about fifteen months to make it to the base of the mountain.