Foreign object’ found by Mars rover a rock flake: NASA

Washington: A so-called “foreign object debris” spotted by Mars rover Curiosity and speculated to be a piece of spacecraft debris has turned out to be a very thin flake of rock, NASA has said.

The object in the image captured on August 13 also triggered speculation among scientists that the Curiosity rover might have shed a piece of itself.

But an analysis by Curiosity’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instruments revealed that the object, which was officially referred to as “Pettegrove Point Foreign Object Debris” (PPFOD), only raised a false alarm, NASA said on Thursday.

“In fact it was found to be a very thin flake of rock, so we can all rest easy tonight – Curiosity has not begun to shed its skin,” Curiosity team member Brittney Cooper wrote in a mission update of the analysis.

“Perhaps the target should have been given a different name befitting the theme of the current quadrangle in which Curiosity resides: ‘Rabhadh Cearr’, or ‘False Alarm’ in Scottish Gaelic,” Cooper said.

The Curiosity team had reasons to worry as in 2012, the rover spotted an equally mysterious bright object on the surface that turned out to be a tiny piece of plastic material shed from the rover, CNET reported.

The rover is currently monitoring the dust opacity or “tau” in Gale crater as the global dust storm that started on Mars in June declines.