New Delhi: NASA's Curiosity rover has been beaming back spectacular images of the Red Planet, which will assist the space agency in its future mission to Mars.
NASA has already gained immense amount of insight into important aspects of Mars, thanks to the 4D droid. There are some things which the scientists expected and there are some which turned out to be a first for them.
One of those 'unexpected' things was a smooth-surfaced rock that turned up in one of the images taken by Curiosity.
The presence of the strange rock took the scientists by surprise and they evidently decided to investigate further.
Laser-zapping of the globular, golf-ball-size object confirmed that it is an iron-nickel meteorite fallen from the Red Planet's sky.
As per NASA, Iron-nickel meteorites are a common class of space rocks found on Earth, and previous examples have been seen on Mars, but this one, called "Egg Rock," is the first on Mars examined with a laser-firing spectrometer. To do so, the rover team used Curiosity's Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument.
"The dark, smooth and lustrous aspect of this target, and its sort of spherical shape attracted the attention of some MSL scientists when we received the Mastcam images at the new location," said ChemCam team member Pierre-Yves Meslin, at the Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology (IRAP), of France's National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the University of Toulouse, France, NASA reported.
ChemCam found iron, nickel and phosphorus, plus lesser ingredients, in concentrations still being determined through analysis of the spectrum of light produced from dozens of laser pulses at nine spots on the object. The enrichment in both nickel and phosphorus at some of the same points suggests the presence of an iron-nickel-phosphide mineral that is rare except in iron-nickel meteorites, Meslin said.
Egg Rock was found along the rover's path up a layer of lower Mount Sharp called the Murray formation, where sedimentary rocks hold records of ancient lakebed environments on Mars. The main science goal for Curiosity's second extended mission, which began last month, is to investigate how ancient environmental conditions changed over time.
The mission has already determined that this region once offered conditions favorable for microbial life, if any life ever existed on Mars.
Check out the photograph beamed back by Curiosity below:
(Image courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)