An unusually smooth and reflective Mars rock has attracted the attention of NASA scientists, prompting an investigation by the Curiosity rover. With the landing of InSight which was extraordinarily successful on Mars earlier this week, our attention has been understood to have been diverted from Curiosity, which has been exploring the Red Planet since 2012.
While we have flooded InSight, the six-wheeled NASA explorer has worked at Vera Rubin Ridge, investigating Highfield's outcrop, a unique patch of gray bedrock.
Curiosity had been at the Highfield practice site before, but NASA mission control wanted to see four previously detected rocks – including very fine stones which, at least in black and white, looked a bit like a piece of gold.
Immediate suspicion is that the rock, nicknamed Little Colonsay, is a meteorite, but NASA scientists will not know for sure until Curiosity conducts chemical analysis. The ChemCam rover instrument, which consists of cameras, spectrographs and lasers, offers chemical laboratories on the spot.
Curiosity might find a meteorite not surprising. The plow has sniffed several objects such as during its trip, including large metal meteorites in 2015 and shiny nickel-iron meteorites the following year.
Other interesting objects discovered by Curiosity include fragments that seem out of place, oddly shaped fine objects that turn out to be a piece of plastic wrap that falls from a rover, and a perfectly-looking ball that is determined to be a product of natural geological processes called concretions.
Perhaps the strangest thing happened in 2013, when Curiosity saw a rock that bears a striking resemblance to squirrels – classic examples of pareidolia, a kind of optical illusion in which faces, animals, or everyday objects are projected onto insignificant stimuli or mediums.
Anyhoo, the Curiosity rover will also investigate a rock called Flanders Moss, which gets its name because of its dark colored coating. Again, NASA won't know more about this object until Curiosity analyzes the sample after drilling. Two other stones, Forres and Eidon, will also be investigated before being curious about the Highfield site.
Unfortunately, Curiosity is the only mobile rover on Mars today. His compatriot, Rover Opportunity, has been out of commission since the dust storm forced him into hibernation mode, sleep that cannot be raised. NASA has not stated that the mission is dead, but we must know more about the status of Opportunities early next year.[NASA JPL]