A Martian mystery may be over scarcely after it began: NASA on late Tuesday said that a formerly unidentified shiny, tiny object spotted on the Red Planet’s surface by the Mars Curiosity Rover is likely just a piece of plastic that fell off the rover and probably doesn’t pose any threat to the rover’s operations.
At the same time, NASA wasn’t ready to decisively call the object a missing piece of the rover just yet: Instead, the agency said in a statement it would be continuing further inspection on the object through Tuesday using the rover’s twin mast-mounted cameras, or Mastcam.
As NASA explained in the statement:
The rover team’s assessment is that the bright object is something from the rover, not Martian material. It appears to be a shred of plastic material, likely benign, but it has not been definitively identified.
NASA published the following initial image of the mystery object late Monday night. TPM annotated it with an arrow but the unannotated version is available here:
NASA initially wasn’t sure what the object could be and subsequently halted further soil sampling activities while it used the Mars Curiosity Rover’s Chemistry and Camera instrument (ChemCam), a laser-equipped camera and analysis tool, to take a zoomed-in shot of the object, which can be seen below in a NASA image released Tuesday and annotated by TPM (unannotated version available here):
As NASA put it: “the [Curiosity science] team is continuing the investigation for another day before deciding whether to resume processing of the sample in the scoop.”
The agency has scheduled a press conference with rover scientists on Thursday at 2 p.m. EDT that will be livestreamed online here, where all of us Earthlings will likely find out more about the object.