Last weekend, Curiosity began conducting the “scooping” portion of its mission; in essence, taking samples of Martian soil from the area known as the Rocknest, and examining them using it’s array of sensors. In the course of doing so, it came across another interesting find – a series of shiny objects, not unlike the small shard of plastic it had discovered ten days earlier.
However, NASA indicated after a preliminary examination that unlike that shard of plastic, these objects did not come from Curiosity itself. According to John Grotzinger, a project scientist with the Mars Science Laboratory, “As the science team thought about it more and more, the bright object is about the same size as the granules that it’s in and it is not uniformly bright. We went back and forth, and the majority of the science team thinks this is indigenous to Mars.”
One hypothesis is that the specks are natural geologic material that might have a broken-off from larger crystalline formations, known as a cleavage, and became dispersed through the soil. These crystalline minerals are more adept at reflecting sunlight than the soil that contains them, hence why they appeared after Curiosity’s scooping exposed them to Martian daylight.
According to Grotzinger, the next step is to examine them using the ChemCam, “a remote sensing tool that has spectacular spatial resolution, and aim it right on that fleck. Then we’ll aim it on another darker grain and try to decide if it is a different class of mineral.” And that’s just one of the fancy tools it will be employing. Another is the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument, which analyzes samples of dirt to determine what minerals the sample contains. The team announced at a press conference the rover successfully placed a small sample of soil inside this sensor, and expects results in short order.
Stay tuned for more new from Mars!
Source: Universe Today