NASA’s unmanned Mars rover Curiosity took a pause in its activities after spotting a bright object. As yet unidentified, it was spotted while Curiosity was collecting its first soil samples. Fearing that the object might be a part of Curiosity itself that fell off, mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California has suspended Curiosity’s exploration until the object is identified.
First sighted by Curiosity’s Mast Camera (Mastcam), the object is very small, but quite shiny and metallic. It may be a bit of mineral that shines, such as quartz, or it could be a bit of Curiosity itself. Since repair a hundred million miles from the nearest garage is not an option, JPL must determine if it is a rover part, whether its loss is important and if a workaround needs to be devised to make up for the loss. As part of this, JPL has instructed Curiosity to take a new series of images of the area in hopes of finding the answers.
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Since landing on Mars on August 6, the nuclear-powered Curiosity has begun its two-year mission to explore Mars in search of sites where life might have or still does exist. Since landing, mission control at JPL has put the robot explorer through a rigorous three-week shakedown followed by a series of test drives. During this time, Curiosity fired its rock-vaporizing laser, streamed the first human voice from another planet, wrote messages in the Martian soil, gave itself a thorough self-examination, studied its first rock using its robotic arm, investigated an ancient stream bed, made the first foursquare check-in from another planet and prepared its internal laboratories to receive soil samples.
The video below shows Curiosity taking its first soil samples.