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Opportunity Spots Curious Object On Mars

Opportunity Spots Curious Object On Mars
Scientists are puzzling over object found at Opportunity’s exploration site within Meridiani Planum. Early speculation is that the “rock” may be a meteorite. Image (Image credit: NASA/JPL)

NASA's Opportunity Mars rover has come across an interesting object -- perhaps a meteorite sitting out in the open at Meridiani Planum. Initial data taken by the robot's Mini-Thermal Emission Spectrometer (Mini-TES) is suggestive that the odd-looking "rock" is made of metal.

The curious-looking object stands out in the parking-lot like landscape of Meridiani Planum.

"We're curious about it too. We have Mini-TES data on it now, and they suggest that it may actually be made of metal," said Steve Squyres, lead scientist on the Mars Exploration Rover mission from Cornell University.

"So we are beginning to suspect that it may be a meteorite. I stress that this is very preliminary!", Squyres told SPACE.com.

Opportunity has been busy at work inspecting entry debris -- hardware that fell to Mars during the robot's entry, descent, and landing over a year ago.

Not too distant from the debris field, the odd-looking rock sits alone atop the sandy terrain.

Squyres cautioned that it is too early to identify the rock as a meteorite.

The next step by rover scientists is to carefully examine the object with Opportunity's Instrument Deployment Device, or IDD. This robot arm is tipped with scientific instruments.

Once extended out to the object, the arm-mounted devices can study the object's structure in great detail. The instruments on the IDD are the Microscopic Imager, the M?ssbauer Spectrometer, the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer, and a Rock Abrasion Tool.

"We're going to look at it carefully with the IDD instruments next, and that should enable us to determine for sure what it is," Squyres said.

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Leonard David
Leonard David

Leonard David is an award-winning space journalist who has been reporting on space activities for more than 50 years. Currently writing as Space.com's Space Insider Columnist among his other projects, Leonard has authored numerous books on space exploration, Mars missions and more, with his latest being "Moon Rush: The New Space Race" published in 2019 by National Geographic. He also wrote "Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet" released in 2016 by National Geographic. Leonard  has served as a correspondent for SpaceNews, Scientific American and Aerospace America for the AIAA. He was received many awards, including the first Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History in 2015 at the AAS Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium. You can find out Leonard's latest project at his website and on Twitter.