The cameras on NASA’s Curiosity rover have been clicking away over the holidays — gathering enough pictures for a 360-degree panorama of its rocky surroundings at Yellowknife Bay, plus a close-up view showing a “Martian flower” seemingly sprouting from the surface.
In this case, the folks doing the assembling are Ken Kremer, a New Jersey-based journalist, research chemist and photographer; and Marco Di Lorenzo, a physicist who’s a high-school educator and photographer in Italy. They stitched together the black-and-white images, filled in the gaps in the Martian sky and colorized the scene to reflect what an observer on Mars might see.
Another picture from Sol 132 has stirred up some buzz at the Above Top Secret discussion forum. The picture focuses in on a bright, crumpled object that’s sitting on a Martian outcrop, as seen by the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager, or MAHLI. The translucent shape is reminiscent of a flower’s pistils, which led one of the forum’s members to call it a “Martian flower.”
Update for 8:30 p.m. ET: I initially suspected that the flower was a tiny shred of plastic from the rover itself. Such a shred popped up in October. At that time, experts at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory surmised that the plastic may have been a bit of wrapping that was knocked loose from the Mars Science Laboratory’s descent stage during the spacecraft’s August landing. The plastic was thought to have fallen on top of the rover, and then dropped to the ground weeks later.
That’s what led me to go with the plastic-scrap hypothesis. However, some of the folks commenting on the pictures noted that the object seemed to be embedded in the rock — which would argue against my hypothesis. So I put in an inquiry with Guy Webster, who serves as JPL’s main spokesman for NASA’s Mars missions.
A couple of hours later, Webster emailed me the verdict: “That appears to be part of the rock, not debris from the spacecraft.”
Mystery solved? It’s certainly an intriguing bit of mineral that stands out prominently in the MAHLI picture. If I find out anything more, I’ll be sure to pass it along. And if it turns out that flowers are really sprouting up on Mars, you’ll know it’s time to cue up the “X-Files” theme. Either way, the truth is out there.
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