The Mars Curiosity rover tweeted (of course it tweets!) the following earlier this afternoon:
Today, Curiosity’s robotic arm reached down and scooped up its first sample of Martian dirt. Its cameras captured the historic moment, but caught something else too. There, among countless grains of reddish-orange sand, a single shimmering something caught the eyes of the image analysts back home on Earth.
Can you see it?
(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
How about now?
(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS and 46BLYZ)
Even clicking those images and looking at them full-size still doesn’t offer much more in the way of a better look. It’s definitely different than the soil and appears metallic, but that’s about all we can make out. NASA isn’t sure what it is yet either, which I think makes it more exciting. As a result they’ve temporarily halted anymore scooping:
Curiosity’s first scooping activity appeared to go well on Oct. 7. Subsequently, the rover team decided to refrain from using the rover’s robotic arm on Oct. 8 due to the detection of a bright object on the ground that might be a piece from the rover. Instead of arm activities during the 62nd Martian day, or sol, of the mission, Curiosity is acquiring additional imaging of the object to aid the team in identifying the object and assessing possible impact, if any, to sampling activities.
Curiosity even imaged the object with its ChemCam (Chemistry and Camera), but the raw image doesn’t offer much more than the MastCam images:
(Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL)
It looks a bit less metallic in this grayscale image, perhaps more like plastic. To me it looks like a discarded shell from someone’s shrimp cocktail. (But that’s just me!)
Hey, did you know that ChemCam also has a built-in laser? It totally does. The purpose of the instrument is to zap rocks with a laser while the camera images the resulting plasma created from the vaporized rock. It can then use the images to analyze the composition and other information about that rock.
It’s my firm belief that Curiosity should zap whatever this unknown object is. For science!