Thursday 11th October 2012

Nosher asked ALf to explain the below.

Curiosity Rover Identifies Mysterious Bright Object as Plastic

Adam Mann.

NASA’s Curiosity rover took time out of its busy scooping and vibrating schedule on Oct. 9 to inspect a mysterious bright object that it spotted in the sand near its wheels the day before. Engineers have identified the bright bit as “shred of plastic material, likely benign.”

“Yeah so last night was crazy. When we spotted the object near the rover, we had to quickly come up with a totally new plan,” tweeted Keri Bean, a meteorologist on the rover team, on Oct. 8.

Curiosity had to take a break in its intended schedule of analyzing the Martian soil in order to make sure that the fallen object was not going to interfere with sampling activities. A close-up photo (below) taken with the probe’s Remote Micro-Imager of the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) showed that the object was probably a piece of plastic, though it has still not been definitively identified. Engineers will take more pictures of the rover’s surroundings over the coming days to make sure there are no other potential contaminants. NASA will probably have further news about the object during a press conference on Oct. 11.

Similar loose screws and bits have been shed by previous rovers, including the Mars Phoenix Lander and the Opportunity rover.

ALf can now confirm that this broken down plastic is the lost top off his Tic Tac box. He was at this location on Mars on January 3rd 1643.

He had been on Earth since 1621 and was living in Brill in Buckinghamshire with Mr and Mrs  Percy Atterton.

The English Civil war was getting too close for comfort so ALf took a vacation to see a few of the local planets in the Earths system.

He says he regrets losing the lid of the box and feels responsible for the contamination.

Curiosity has gone more than 1,300 feet since landing on Mars and, for much of the recent drive, scientists have been searching around for a “good sandbox to play in,” said Michael Watkins, the rover’s mission manager during a NASA press conference on Oct. 4.

Now, it seems like they’ve found the right spot. The rover is parked at an area that researchers are calling the Rocknest, where it will stay for several weeks to practice its scooping. Curiosity pushed one of its wheels into the loose sand (pictured below) at this location and spun it about it make sure it’s loose and dry — perfect for sampling.

The rover will use its suite of advanced instruments to analyze the soil, first with its close-up MAHLI camera and X-ray spectrometer APXS. But the big test will come from using the Collection and Handling for Interior Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) instrument.

CHIMRA (pronounced ki-mera) has a small scoop, “basically an oversized tablespoon,” said engineer Daniel Limonadi, who works on Curiosity’s surface sampling and science system, that will pick up “half a baby-aspirin pill” worth of material. Once it has procured a sample, the entire instrument suite will tip up and shake rapidly — at around 8 g — to make sure the sample travels down a long tube and gets to the analysis instruments. Below you can see a video of the scoop operating on Earth before Curiosity launched.

During this first scooping procedure, Curiosity will be using the Martian sand to clean out its interior. Despite being kept in immaculate conditions on Earth, there was no way to avoid a small oily film from building up on the instruments prior to launch. With the Martian sample, the rover will sand blast its interior surfaces and remove this film. “We will rinse and repeat three times to clean everything out,” said Limonadi.

Once everything has been cleaned and purged, Curiosity will use its arm to bring a sample of sand to its body and send it to its lab instruments (a computer-generated video shows this operation below). These include SAM and ChemMin, which will tell scientists all of the secrets of this Martian soil.

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