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Curiosity is not shedding again: That's a Martian sparkler

October 19, 2012|By Amy Hubbard
  • While taking bites of dirt for analysis, the Curiosity rover sent back images of bright particles amid the soil, which "prompted concern" among scientists.
While taking bites of dirt for analysis, the Curiosity rover sent back images… (NASA / JPL-Caltech/MSSS…)

As Curiosity scooped up its first dirt on Mars for analysis by the rover's high-tech instruments earlier this week, NASA scientists became concerned when they saw bright particles in the soil.

In previous days, the rover's cameras sent back images of a bright fleck in the dirt -- which, according to NASA, turned out to be a half-inch-long shred of debris from the spacecraft. So the bright particle in images taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager on Monday "prompted concern," NASA said. 

As the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday, the mission's science team has now determined that these particles are all-Martian.    

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The rover's Twitter stream tweeted: "Distinctly Martian: Just had my 1st taste of Red Planet regolith. Mineral analysis underway."

The soil samples are the latest adventure for the rover as it heads toward Gale Crater, a multilayered mound that may hold more clues to whether the planet ever hosted microbial life.

The dirt that's been scooped, from a spot on Mars dubbed Rocknest, will go into the rover's CheMin, an instrument that examines the minerals and chemical makeup of the soil. A Caltech geologist characterized the dirt that's being examined as the "dust" that's prevalent on the Red Planet.

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Scientists, he said, will analyze "once and for all the mineral composition of ... the stuff that swirls around the planet."

Collecting and analyzing the first Martian soil sample is a "huge milestone" in the Curiosity mission, deputy project scientist Ashwin Vasavada told The Times in a recent interview.


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