NASA’s Curiosity Rover Found A Strange Metallic Object on Mars

Mars Rover exploring on the planet surface.

NASA’s Curiosity rover recently stumbled upon an unusually shiny object in Mars’ Gale Crater. While the discovery received some coverage, it came at a time when most attention was focused on the space agency’s successful touchdown of the InSight Lander. NASA says it believes the object may be a meteorite and that it plans to study it more closely, though Curiosity was unable to pick it up on its first attempt.

The object, which NASA named Little Colonsay after an island in Scotland, has a distinct sheen to it, even noticeable through a black and white image the agency posted on its website.

“The planning team thinks it might be a meteorite because it is so shiny,” Susanne Schwenzer, a member of the Curiosity team, wrote. “But looks can deceive, and proof will only come from the chemistry.”

Curiosity has discovered meteorites in the past, though every irregular or eye-catching find sparks excitement, especially considering the recent discovery of a 12-mile wide body of water beneath the planet’s surface — a breakthrough confirming that Mars, at some point in its past, contained vast oceans and potentially harbored life. This possibility excites those who believe we may find evidence of a lost civilization or even fossils beneath the planet’s dusty surface.

 

 

The latest discovery apparently occurred the same day the InSight Lander touched down, as NASA’s JPL website said Curiosity was greeted by the Mr. Rogers’ jingle “Please would you be my neighbor,” before it got to work studying Little Colonsay.

This is not the first time Curiosity has come across anomalous looking objects, as it once found a piece of plastic, which was later alleged to have originated as debris from its landing.

Other strange looking objects the rover uncovered have convinced people that NASA found animals or artificial remnants it then covered up or ignored. However, the space agency insists these to be the product of pareidolia – a trick our minds play on us to make objects appear recognizable – though still, some remain skeptical.

Back in August, a very distinctly shaped object was discovered by Curiosity igniting speculation of an alien artifact or that it was a piece of the rover which was starting to fall apart. NASA tried to quell the excitement saying it tested the object and found it was a rock.

In other instances, online sleuths have claimed that the rover imaged animals including a squirrel and a duck on the Martian surface. These claims however, should probably be taken with a grain of salt, but if you’re interested you can find them here and here.

 

Even if most of Curiosity’s discoveries are just rocks, there are in fact, some truly unexplained anomalies discovered while observing the red planet – check them out in this episode of Deep Space :

Martian Refugees


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A Massive Meteor Hit Earth Last Year; Almost No One Noticed

A massive meteor explosion over the Bering Sea three months ago went completely unnoticed until just now, when scientists reviewed low-frequency acoustic wave data picked up by global recording stations. The 32-foot diameter meteor exploded on Dec. 18, releasing 173 kilotons of energy – about 10 times that of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

This latest meteor explosion was the second largest impact in the past 30 years, coming in behind the Chelyabinsk meteor of 2013 which caused a number of injuries and was widely captured on video.

But unlike Chelyabinsk, this recent explosion took three months to be detected by a scientist studying infrasound data, which is inaudible to humans, but recorded by 16 monitoring stations around the world. The explosion is even being compared to the Tunguska event of 1908, during which a meteorite leveled an area of Siberia that included somewhere in the range of 80 million trees.

The explosion occurred in an incredibly remote area of the planet over an ocean where, luckily, no air traffic was passing through at that moment. But the fact that meteors this size with devastating potential, can enter the atmosphere almost undetected is a little unsettling.

While it wasn’t witnessed or officially recognized until now, footage from a Japanese weather satellite happened to capture an image of the explosion as it entered the atmosphere between Russia and Alaska.

The meteor explosion caught by the Japanese Himawari-8 satellite Simon Proud, University of Oxford/Japan Meteorological Agency

 

Scientists often refer to a meteorite this size as a city-buster due to its potential to level an entire city, and bolides this size tend to enter our atmosphere a few times per century.

Reassuringly, most of the larger asteroids floating in our general vicinity have been mapped out and are regularly monitored by scientists at various observatories – even if we don’t necessarily have the means to deflect them if they were on a crash course with Earth.

But these mid-size rocks are particularly troubling, especially as man-made space debris can lead to collisions and changes in trajectory.

The technology and cataloging of 90 percent of all near-Earth asteroids larger than 450 feet in diameter is underway, but may take several decades. But these are only the rare nation-busters that would wipe out an entire country; mapping out all of the smaller city-busters is something that hasn’t really been considered, if it’s even possible.

Seems like it might be time someone builds a machine learning algorithm to do that for us.

 

For more on near-miss asteroids check out this episode of Beyond Belief with Dan Durda:

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