NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has taken to working the night shift lately. This week, on the Martian night of January 22, the nuclear-powered explorer used its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) instrument under ultraviolet light to examine a rock called "Sayunei” as part of its two-year mission to seek out areas of the Red Planet where life may once or could still exist.
The target rock is near where mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, plan to try out Curiosity’s drill for the first time in the next few weeks. For the examination, Curiosity used the MAHLI instrument, which is a sort of super “magnifying glass” located in the 4X4-sized rover’s robotic hand. It’s equipped with its own LED lights for both white and ultraviolet lighting and for its first images it waited until the Martian night time and used the MAHLI to take pictures of its calibration target.
When mission control was satisfied that the instrument was working properly, it took the first images of "Sayunei” under ultraviolet light in search of fluorescent minerals. Ultraviolet light is a common geologist’s tool. It’s routinely used by miners to detect ore veins or precious stones, though it isn’t generally used for mineral identification because only a small fraction of minerals are fluorescent. However, it is still a simple and valuable tool.
"The purpose of acquiring observations under ultraviolet illumination was to look for fluorescent minerals," said MAHLI Principal Investigator Ken Edgett of Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. "These data just arrived this morning. The science team is still assessing the observations. If something looked green, yellow, orange or red under the ultraviolet illumination, that'd be a more clear-cut indicator of fluorescence."
The video below is JPL’s latest Curiosity update.