The Curiosity Rover’s scooping activities at a rocky area of Mars dubbed “Rocknest,” which were expected to last two to three weeks, had been temporarily halted Monday and Tuesday after imagery taken by the rover’s twin mast-mounted cameras (Mastcam) on Sunday uncovered a tiny, shiny unidentified object on the Martian surface just below the rover.
NASA took close-ups of the object and on Tuesday announced that it was probably just a piece of plastic that had harmlessly fallen off of the rover.
Further study seems to indicate this theory to be correct. As NASA explained in a statement Wednesday:
Over the past two sols [Martian days], with rover arm activities on hold, the team has assessed the object as likely to be some type of plastic wrapper material, such as a tube used around a wire, possibly having fallen onto the rover from the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft’s descent stage during the landing in August.
NASA also said that the rover’s activities on Tuesday included taking measurements of the Martian weather using the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station, or REMS, as well as capturing further panoramic imagery of the Red Planet with the Mastcam.
The rover will remain at its current site, Rocknest, for the duration of the scooping activities. NASA has said it needs to take at least four scoops of soil, some of which will be actually used to clean internal components of the rover’s instruments, which have a thin oily film from being on Earth that could prevent them from working properly on Mars unless scraped off with a sandy surface, which this area of Mars affords.
NASA has scheduled a press conference Thursday to announce the latest updates from the 23-long Mars Curiosity Rover science mission (also known as the Mars Science Laboratory), which began following the rover’s landing on Mars on August 6, 2012.