Curiosity Rover Brushes Off a Rock for the First Time

The brushed area on target rock "Ekwir_1" as imaged by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on Curiosity.
The brushed area on target rock “Ekwir_1” as imaged by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on Curiosity. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The Curiosity rover, the most complex yet of its kind, has an impressive array of instruments to assist in its investigation of the Martian terrain in Gale crater. It has been using its laser to zap rocks and analyze the resulting dust and is preparing to use its drill for the first time within the next few days or so. In the meantime, it has also just swept dust off of a rock with its brush for the first time.

Why is this important? Mars is a very dusty place. The Dust Removal Tool (DRT) cleans off the surface of a rock so that it can be better inspected by other instruments, such as the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer. The MER rovers Spirit and Opportunity do much the same thing (or did, in the case of poor Spirit).

The DRT is a motorized, wire-bristle brush in the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm. With Curiosity currently still in the Yellowknife Bay area of Gale crater, the science team needed a rather flat rock covered in dust (not too hard to find here), and chose a rock dubbed “Ekwir_1” as its first target.

Close-up view of the brushed area done by Curiosity.
Close-up view of the brushed area done by Curiosity. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

According to Diana Trujillo, the activity lead for the DRT, “We wanted to be sure we had an optimal target for the first use. 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 images were taken on sol 150 (January 6, 2013), the same day as the brushing. The oval-shaped brushed patch is 1.85 inches by 2.44 inches (47 millimeters by 62 millimeters) in size.

It’s also interesting to note that in the new images of the rock that Curiosity just brushed, what may be more of the small odd “bubble” features can now be seen, which were previously covered by the dust layer. Other fractures, veins, grains, and dust particles can also be seen.

This brushing is a good first test of the DRT as the science team prepares for its first drilling into a nearby rock sometime soon, which should provide some interesting analysis of the composition. After that, it’s on to Mount Sharp!

The DRT was built by Honeybee Robotics in New York, which also built the wire brushes and rock-grinding tools for Spirit and Opportunity.



  1. Incredible! Yet another example of our amazing technological capabilities to explore our neighbors in the solar system. Using the experience of Curiosity, we can develop sophisticated probes to Europa, Titan and other moons to perhaps finally answer the question of the possibility of life elsewhere. One wonders what other amazing discoveries on Mars await us.

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