NASA’s Curiosity rover project is back in action after some issues with its computer — and has discovered an intriguing shiny object on the surface of Mars.
Curiosity’s ChemCam camera has been busy snapping images of the area around the rover, and the ChemCam will be looking next at four samples in particular. Two of them have been targeted before, but scientists want to go back and look at the objects in more detail. One of the re-targeted samples is “Little Colonsay,” a shiny object that the NASA team believes may be a meteorite. Curiosity has discovered meteorites on the surface of Mars before; in 2014 it found a shiny rock thought to be an iron meteorite, and in 2015 a nickel-iron meteorite was examined.
However, it’s hard to tell what the Little Colonsay object is just from images, so the rover will need to gather a sample for chemical analysis before a judgement can be made about whether it crashed into Mars from somewhere else in space. The ChemCam tool, as the name suggests, is more than just a camera. It also allows chemical analysis using instruments like a laser and a spectrograph which can give more information about the makeup of a sample.
The other three things Curiosity is targeting are a dark object called “Flanders Moss,” which scientists are unsure what to make of without chemistry information showing its composition, and two samples of grey bedrock called “Forres” and “Eildon.”
But Curiosity won’t site idle while its ChemCam works — the rover also needs to dump the sample it collected from the Highfield drill site by swinging its arm around and out of the way so that the sample is piled nearby. The instruments onboard the rover, including the ChemCam, can then analyze the pile more clearly. Other projects for the busy rover include environmental observations, like a crater rim extinction, using the Mast Camera or Mastcam to collect color images and video including optical depth measurement, and monitoring for dust devils.