Glenelg, a site (blue dot) about 400 meters from where Curiosity landed, has been selected as the first target for the rover. Glenelg is a palindrome, and was thought appropriate because the rover will visit the spot (below) twice during its exploration of the area, before heading to the base of Mount Sharp.
Scientists are interested in the bright terrain at the top because this may be bedrock, which could be a good target for Curiosity’s first drilling experiment. The second terrain, below and right, shows extensive small craters and may represent an older or harder surface. The last area, below and left, is the type of terrain where Curiosity landed and scientists can try to determine if the same kind of rock texture at Goulburn, an area where blasts from the descent stage rocket engines scoured away some of the surface, also occurs at Glenelg.
If an appropriate site is found, the rover will use its drill to extract a few grains and feed them into the rover’s analytical instruments, SAM and CheMin, which will then make very detailed mineralogical and other investigations.
The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) is a suite of three instruments, including a mass spectrometer, gas chromatograph, and a tunable laser spectrometer, which will look for compounds of the element carbon, including methane, that are associated with life. The instruments will explore ways in which they are generated and destroyed in the martian ecosphere. SAM will also look for and measure the abundances of other light elements, such as hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, associated with life.
The Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin) will identify and measure the abundances of various minerals on Mars.
Once this initial exploration is complete (which could take a month or more), the rover will aim to drive to the blue spot marked “Base of Mt. Sharp”.
This is a break in the dunes that should let Curiosity begin moving up the slopes. The base of Mount Sharp is composed of layered buttes and mesas, and should reveal the geological history of the area.