Another crucial instrument on the Curiosity Mars rover has had its first test: the Dust Removal Tool, used to sweep dust from the rover's target rocks.
The mission team has successfully cleared a five-centimeter patch from a flat rock to give a clearer view of its texture and chemistry.
The tool is a motorized, wire-bristle brush designed to prepare rock surfaces for inspection by the rover's science instruments. It's built into the turret at the end of the rover's arm.
Without it, the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer and the Mars Hand Lens Imager - both of which share the turret with the brush and the rover's hammering drill - wouldn't be able to gather their information.
As their target, the team chose 'Ekwir_1', a rock in the Yellowknife Bay area of Mars' Gale Crater.
"We wanted to be sure we had an optimal target for the first use," said Diana Trujillo, the mission's activity lead for the Dust Removal Tool.
"We need to place the instrument within less than half an inch of the target without putting the hardware at risk. We needed a flat target, one that wasn't rough, one that was covered with dust. The results certainly look good."
The team now plans to use rocks in the same area to try out the rover's hammering drill in the next few weeks. Yellowknife Bay appears to consist of a different type of rock to that which the rover's examined so far, and to date from an earlier geological period.