An image taken by Curiosity's camera showing its robotic arm scooping sand reveals an object that sparked off speculations online, with guesses from ET earrings to gold tooth, even after NASA said it was likely a bit of the rover that broke off.
During the mission's 61st Martian day or Sol (Oct. 7, 2012), Curiosity scooped up its first sample of the Martian surface, using its robotic arm. NASA scientists studying photos snapped by the rover's right Mast Camera (Mastcam) spotted a bright object in the foreground and decided to suspend Curiosity's sampling of Martian soil.
NASA scientists said they were investigating what the object is, but expressed belief that it was probably a piece of the rover that fell off into the dust. According to NASA in an update: "Subsequently, the rover team decided to refrain from using the rover's robotic arm on Oct. 8 (Sol 62) due to the detection of a bright object on the ground that might be a piece from the rover." The update added: "Curiosity is acquiring additional imaging of the object to aid the team in identifying the object and assessing possible impact, if any, to sampling activities."
After Curisoity spent much of Sol 62 (October 8, Monday) taking more photographs of the "bright object," using the Remote Micro-Imager of the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument, NASA scientists finally concluded that the object was likely a shred of "benign plastic" material that fell off the rover but they were not able to identify the object definitely. NASA update says: "To proceed cautiously, the team is continuing the investigation for another day before deciding whether to resume processing of the sample in the scoop. Plans include imaging of surroundings with the Mastcam."
Mars rover Curiosity cameras detect "bright object" on Martian surface
Curiosity's sampling device that carries scooped samples into instruments in the rover's main body is located at the end of its 7-foot robotic arm. According to NASA, the instruments are the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) and Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) that the rover uses in the study to determine if Mars could have supported microbial life in the past.
The first sample scoops were taken to prepare the SAM and CheMin instruments for future sampling measurements. The first scoop would help clean the instruments of any residue of Earth material and ensure that when measurements of Martian environment are taken it would be free of contaminating material from Earth.
Curiosity will spend two years exploring Gale Crater landing site.