NASA’s Curiosity Spots Bright Glint

NASA’s Curiosity rover has spotted glint in the Red Planet’s soil that has briefly halted Mars rover scooping operations for a close-up investigation.
Mars Curiosity rover tooks its first scoop of Martian soil on Suinenday. Pictures showing the first scoop taken from a patch of sand nicknamed “Rocknest” also reveal that “a bright object is visible on the ground” between the scoop and the rest of the rover, says a NASA statement. The tiny glints are less than a tenth of an inch across.

The team has halted scooping tests with the rover to take more pictures of the glinting object. “The rover team’s assessment is that the bright object is something from the rover, not Martian material,” says the space agency statement. Out of a sense of caution, the rover team will take more images of the bright object and Curiosity’s surroundings Wednesday, before proceeding with scooping operations.

Mars has a history of curious optical illusions, such as the “canals” imagined by some astronomers a century ago and the “Face on Mars” that turned out to be a shadowy hill once it was viewed by improved cameras a decade ago. Nevertheless, the tiny bright object spotted by Curiosity has attracted plenty of attention from Mars watchers.

“Beats me what it is! It looks real — that is, something is really there — and it doesn’t look like a rock,” says astronomer Phil Plait of Discover Magazine’s website. While the glint could be a piece of plastic from the rover, it doesn’t look like a screw or important part, says Plait, by e-mail (the space agency called the object “benign” in its latest statement). “I think JPL and NASA are right to stop activities until they can determine if this is just a bit of Martian landscape or something that might have come off Curiosity itself. Either way, it’s worth investigating,” Plait says.

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