An unusually smooth and reflective Martian rock has caught the attention of NASA scientists and triggered an investigation by the Curiosity rover.
With the spectacularly successful landing of the InSight probe On Mars earlier this week, our attention was understandably diverted from Curiosity, which has been exploring the Red Planet since 201
Curiosity was previously at the Highfield drilling site, but NASA's mission controllers wanted to look at four previously discovered rocks – including an unusually smooth rock that looks a bit like a piece of gold, at least in black and white.
Immediate suspicion is that the rock called Little Colonsay is a meteorite, but NASA scientists are not sure until Curiosity conducts a chemical analysis. The Rover's ChemCam instrument, which consists of a camera, a spectrograph and a laser, offers a local chemistry lab.
That Curiosity stumbled over a meteorite is not shocking. The rover has discovered several such objects during its travels, including a huge metal meteorite from 2015 and a shiny nickel-iron meteorite the following year.
Other interesting objects that Curiosity has discovered are a seemingly inappropriate fragment, a smooth, oddly shaped object that turned out to be a piece of plastic wrap falling down from the rover, and a perfect-looking sphere the product of a natural geological process, called concretion. The strangest incident occurred in 2013, when Curiosity discovered stones that bore a striking resemblance to a squirrel – a classic example of Pareidolia, a kind of optical illusion in which faces, animals or everyday objects are projected onto insignificant stimuli or media.
However, the Curiosity Rover will also investigate a rock called Flanders Moss, which earned its name because of its dark coating. NASA no longer knows about this object until Curiosity analyzes a sample after drilling. Two other rocks, Forres and Eidon, are also being investigated before Curiosity collects on the Highfield site.
Unfortunately, Curiosity is currently the only mobile rover on Mars. His compatriot, the Opportunity Rover, had been out of action since a dust storm forced him into hibernation mode, a sleep he could not wake from. NASA has not declared the mission dead yet, but we should know more about the status of Opportunity early next year.