NASA’s Curiosity rover had been on Mars 61 days when she gathered her first scoop of soil.Before the one-ton robot could finish sifting through her first small bucket of dust, however, all the excitement shifted to a shiny object found in the sand near the rover.
After reviewing images, the Curiosity team determined that the bright material was probably a piece of plastic from the rover and not material from Mars.
Or so they thought.
The rover collected its second scoop of Martian soil at the “Rocknest” site on Sol 66. More bright particles were found. Believing these particles were also tiny pieces of rover, the team decided not to run the dirt sample through Curiosity’s analysis instrument to avoid contaminating the mechanism with Earth debris. The scoop was thrown away. That same day, however, Curiosity snapped an image showing part of the hole left when Curiosity took her first scoop.
The team noticed something different this time.
They saw that a light-toned particle was embedded in a clump of Martian soil, leading researchers to believe that the material could be native to Mars. This find completely overturned their original argument: These mystery particles are not something from the rover.
Following the discovery, a third scoop of soil was collected. This sample will now be run through Curiosity’s Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument to figure out what it’s made of, and hopefully find out what’s making the sand so shiny.
“Confidence for going ahead with the third scooping was based on new assessment that other bright particles in the area are native Martian material,” NASA said in statement.
The image below, taken on Sol 66, shows the rover’s scoop hole. You can see a bright particle in a clod of soil at the top centre of the image.
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