NASA’s Curiosity rover just discovered a shiny rock on Mars, and while it might sound like something only magpies would be interested in, it’s actually an intriguing find.
Curiosity has been trawling the surface of Mars for over six years now – after it landed on the planet in August 2012 – with the mission of helping to determine whether Mars could ever offer environmental conditions favourable for human life.
According to NASA, the trusty rover fulfilled its main purpose after one Martian year (687 days), when it sampled two mudstone slabs and revealed the site in question was once a lakebed with mild water, the essential elemental ingredients for life.
Since then, Curiosity has continued roaming and searching, and recently, it stumbled upon a very shiny ‘gold rock’ which caught the interest of those at the space agency.
Scientists spotted the rock, which has since been dubbed ‘Little Colonsay’, on a wide image of Curiosity’s camera, and have decided to go back for a closer look.
Sharing the news of the discovery on a NASA blog, the agency speculated about what the rock might be, writing:
One of the samples that we 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.
Operators of the rover will use the machine’s ChemCam to study the shiny object. Looking at rocks and soils from a distance, the ChemCam fires a laser and analyses the composition of vaporised materials from areas smaller than 1mm on the surface of Martian rocks and soils.
An on-board spectrograph then provides scientists with details about minerals and microstructures in rocks by measuring the composition of the resulting plasma.
It all sounds very scientific. Good job NASA are on the case – at least they’ll understand what’s going on.
Until we learn more about the mysterious rock, the less scientific-minded of us can just appreciate how shiny it is.
If you have a story you want to tell, send it to [email protected]