Mars Curiosity makes new find – part of itself

Added by on October 9, 2012

The Mars Curiosity rover, on its 63rd martian day, snapped photos of a small, bright object on the surface of Mars – the object was identified on Tuesday.

Scientists had Curiosity take several photos of the object that was described as ‘shiny’. The photo accompanying this article indicates the location of the object at the center of the red circle.

The rover spotted the object as it was testing an instrument that scoops samples of the martian soil in preparation for further testing using the 1-ton rover’s science instruments.

“The rover team’s assessment is that the bright object is something from the rover, not Martian material,” wrote mission team members in an update today. “It appears to be a shred of plastic material, likely benign, but it has not been definitively identified.”

Mission scientists plan to continue to investigate the object for another day before deciding whether to continue processing the soil sample still in the rover’s scoop.

A similar incident occurred in March, 1982 with a Russian descent vehicle that was sent to Venus. The probe, called Venera 14, carried instruments that included two color cameras and spring-loaded arms that were designed to test the surface’s compressibility. The camera lenses were covered with a lens cap that was popped off after landing, yet fell where the probe measured the surface’s compressibility – making the measurement invalid.

Samples from the scoop are dropped into two instruments that determine the chemical composition of soil samples. The rover will take several samples to cleanse the instruments, ensuring all measurements test martian samples that are not contaminated with possible residues left over from the rover’s assembly before it was launched.

The $2.5 billion Mars Curiosity rover landed inside a large crater on the surface of Mars, called the Gale Crater, on August 5 and is expected to spend the next two years exploring the martian environment. At about the size of Mini Cooper car, Curiosity is the largest robotic rover ever sent to explore another planet.

The Venera-14 probe was launched by Russia on November 4 1981 to explore the surface of Venus – the probe survived the harsh environment for 57 minutes out of a designed 32-minute lifetime.