Shiny things attract cats, magpies, easily distracted humans, and apparently Mars rovers.
The Curiosity rover just beamed over a picture of a strange rock that is much smoother than most of what you expect to find in the Martian regolith. It appears (at least in black and white) almost gold or silver.
As mission control and our entire planet held their breath over whether Insight would touch down or crash and burn, Curiosity was had been exploring the Highfield outcrop, a stretch of unusual gray bedrock at Vera Rubin Ridge. This isn’t a site unfamiliar to Curiosity. NASA scientists wanted to examine several rocks the rover glimpsed before, including that shiny one, which seems to be masquerading as precious metal.
The NASA suspicion is that this rock is probably a meteorite. Nobody will really know until Little Colonsay, which it is now officially named, undergoes an on-site chemical analysis from Curiosity’s ChemCam instrument, which is pretty much a mobile chemistry lab. It also has a spectrograph and laser to investigate what Little Colonsay is really made of.
This isn’t the first time Curiosity has found something weird. The rover, which has been crawling over the surface of Mars since 2012, has discovered and imaged objects including a massive metal meteorite and another metal meteorite that was just as shiny. It also found a freaky sphere that was almost too perfect because of the geological process of concretion, which is more proof of ancient water on the Red Planet.
Curiosity has also unearthed some more unconventional objects, like a plastic wrapper that was almost thought to be alien debris and a cluster of rocks that looked so much like a squirrel that they would have had you wondering whether there were rodents on Mars. This is the phenomenon otherwise known as pareidolia — an optical illusion that involves projecting familiar images onto random things.
Other objects Curiosity will be taking a closer look at include Flanders Moss, named for its creepy dark coating that will also be chemically analyzed. Forres and Eildon are two more targets in the gray bedrock that the rover will study before rolling on from Highfield next week. It will also keep up with environmental observations by investigating a crater rim extinction and monitoring dust devils. There couldn’t be a more appropriate phenomenon than dust devils on Mars.
Whatever Little Colonsay really is, you can’t help but find an excuse to be a Firefly meme for a moment and say “Shiny!”