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Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Curiosity discovers unidentified, metallic object on Mars
A few hundred million miles away on the surface of the Red Planet, Mars rover Curiosity has discovered… an unidentified, shiny, metallic object.
Now, before you get too excited, the most likely explanation is that bright object is part of the rover that has fallen off — or perhaps some debris from MSL Curiosity’s landing on Mars, nine weeks ago.
There is the distinct possibility, however, that this object is actually native to Mars, which would be far more exciting. It could be the tip of a larger object, or perhaps some kind of exotic, metallic Martian pebble (a piece of metal ore, perhaps).
The shiny object, which must surely stick out like a sore thumb for the army of NASA scientists who are tasked with poring through imagery sent back by Curiosity, was very much a chance find. The photo (see larger) was taken by Curiosity’s Mastcam to document the rover’s first use of the scoop, which sits on the end of the rover’s robotic arm. The scoop will be used to pick up soil, shake it around, and then deposit the sample in one of Curiosity’s on-board chemistry labs (SAM and ChemMin) for further analysis.
The original plan was to spend Sol 62 (today) performing further testing of the scoop, but following this new discovery the rover will stop what it’s doing and gather more imagery of the shiny object. It might be tempting for Curiosity to simply pick the object up, or fire its spectroscopic laser at it, but it’s much wiser to take a closer look with the close-up MAHLI camera first. If it’s actually the trigger for a trap door beneath the rover, for example, or the last remaining relic of the Martian race, then NASA obviously needs to handle it with care.
Curiosity’s progress on Mars, as of Sol 56 (when it stopped at Rocknest)
In other news, Curiosity is now very close to Glenelg — the rover’s first major scientific site, where it will try out its percussive drill for the first time. We also have a photo of an ancient riverbed, when water seemingly flowed on the surface of Mars, and few photos of Rocknest, the name given to the location where Curiosity is currently located, as it tests out its scoop and analyzes that unidentified, shiny object.
Rocknest, as viewed by Curiosity’s Mastcam
A scuffmark made by Curiosity’s wheel, at Rocknest
An ancient river/stream bed, photographed by Curiosity on Mars