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 specialized 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 vaporized 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 the 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’s 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 neighbor, NASA’s InSight spacecraft, which touched down November 26.
The spacecraft arrived on Mars after a perilous supersonic plunge through the red skies that took just six minutes.
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.