NASA’S Mars Curiosity rover has found an unusual, shiny lump on the Red Planet’s surface.
Researchers believe the object “might be a meteorite because it is so shiny”, according to a Nasa blog.
The Mars Science Laboratory mission’s spacecraft, the most technologically advanced rover ever built, landed on a crater on August 5, 2012.
Since then it has been kept busy, working on its mission to determine whether the Red Planet ever was – or is habitable – to microbial life.
The rover is the size of a Mini Cooper and is equipped with 17 cameras and a robotic arm containing specialised lab-like tools and instruments.
And one of those cameras has captured the unusual gold object.
In an update to the mission’s blog, team member Suzanne Schwenzer joked that Rover has been “hunting shiny things!”
She uploaded an image taken by the rover’s ChemCam of the unknown object: “target Little Colonsay, a potential meteorite”.
ChemCam fires a laser and analyses the composition of vaporised materials from areas smaller than 1mm on the surface of Martian rocks and soils.
It also uses the laser to clear away dust from Martian rocks, and a remote camera to take extremely detailed images.
Schwenzer explained that of four samples recently taken for analysis, “one of the samples that we [will] try to get a better look at is ‘Little Colonsay’.
“The planning team thinks it might be a meteorite because it is so shiny. But looks can deceive and proof will only come from the chemistry.
“Unfortunately the small target was missed in the previous attempt, and with the information from that, Curiosity will try again.”
The finding comes in the wake of a “minor post-holiday hiccup” after Thanksgiving, when the rover’s robotic arm “tripped a safety limit”.
However the arm activity was recovered, enabling researchers to undertake a number of science observations in regard to Mars’ bedrock, including the search for meteorites, and monitoring changes in the wind and sediment movement.
Rover’s researchers have this week welcomed new Martian neighbour, Nasa’s InSight spacecraft, which touched down on Monday.
The spacecraft arrived on Mars after a perilous supersonic plunge through the red skies that took just six minutes.
The spacecraft flipped open its lens cover on its instrument context camera (ICC) yesterday, and captured a new, clear view of Mars.
Nasa said that the ICC “has a fisheye view, creating a curved horizon.
“Some clumps of dust are still visible on the camera’s lens. One of the spacecraft’s footpads can be seen in the lower right corner. The seismometer’s tether box is in the upper left corner.”
InSight’s first snapshot of the surface after landing was a dust-speckled image, which showed a mostly smooth and sandy terrain around the spacecraft, with just one sizeable rock visible.
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