NASA’s Curiosity rover has discovered a strange object on Mars. Its controlling team didn’t know at first what to make of it. The finding happened this week and it consisted of an unusual piece, raising concerns that it might have been part of a spacecraft.
The rover’s mission
The Mars rover is designed to take lots and lots of photographs as it makes its way across the red planet. Among these photos, its controlling team came across one that showed a curious item, thin and light-colored, resting on the red, dusty ground. It clearly stands out among the other objects in the background. Currently, the rover is monitoring the dust opacity or “tau” in Gale crater as the global dust storm that started on Mars in June starts to decline.
The foreign object
Immediately, the team named this object the ‘Pettegrove Point Foreign Object Debris’ after the area that it was found in, Pettegrove Point, the region which Curiosity is currently exploring inside Mars’s Gate Crater.
At first, it was believed that it may be a piece that the rover itself has ‘shed’, or perhaps it was a piece from an alien spacecraft. But what was it, in the end? Turns out, it is nothing but a very thin flake of rock. Although some of us may feel disappointed, the team was reassured because this means that Curiosity is still intact.
How did they figure out what was it?
The team wasn’t satisfied with the initial photos and sent Curiosity back in order to take a second look. This time, the rover examined the rock closer with its ChemCam. This special camera allowed it to zoom in and figure it out, it was just a natural part of the Martian landscape.
It isn’t the first time the team had to go through this hurdle. Back in 2012, Curiosity came across another unusual, bright object that didn’t seem to be a part of the landscape. It turned out to be a piece of plastic material which was lost by the rover itself.
As our second lead editor, Anna C. Mackinno provides guidance on the stories Great Lakes Ledger reporters cover. She has been instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. If you see a particularly clever title, you can likely thank Anna. Anna received a BA and and MA from Fordham University.