LOS ANGELES – NASA (search) scientists hope microscopic images taken by the Opportunity rover (search) of a bedrock outcropping on the surface of Mars will help answer questions about the planet's history.
The rover was preparing to test the makeup of the outcropping after snapping the images on Sunday. The images may shed light on the geologic history of the region and what the environment was like when the outcropping was formed, said Jim Erickson, deputy mission manager.
Opportunity discovered the outcropping, which is about 50 feet long and a foot high, within days of its Jan. 24 landing. It was the first bedrock outcropping discovered by any Mars (search) mission.
The microscopic images and other tests could bring scientists closer to answering whether water — a key condition for life — ever existed on Mars.
Also Sunday, scientists studied data that Opportunity's twin rover, Spirit, gathered by drilling into a rock. A tool equipped with small, diamond-shaped heads cut 2.7 millimeters deep into a tiny area of a sharply angled rock dubbed Adirondack.
It was the first rock to be drilled by either of the two rovers on the mission.
The circular hole measuring about 45 millimeters wide could give scientists more clues to Mars' geologic past.
The two rovers are exploring different parts of the planet as part of their $820 million mission.