The Red Planet actually is largely white, according to NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover.
A newly released image by the space agency is raising eyebrows as it shows the surface of Mars may be more white than red.
The whitish soil sample was discovered after the rover deployed, for the first time, the brush it carries to sweep dust off rocks. The whitish soil was the result of an area cleaned by the rover’s brush, and according to NASA, the area measured about 1.85 inches by 2.44 inches (47 by 62 millimeters). It remains unclear why the soil sample is white, although the rover team is said to be preparing for a number of future tests that could better explain the whitish tint.
NASA issued a statement late Tuesday explaining the decision to dust the particular rock, saying its surface and shape largely influenced the decision.
“Choosing an appropriate target was crucial for the first-time use of the Dust Removal Tool,” NASA officials explained. “The chosen target, called “Ekwir_1,” is on a rock in the “Yellowknife Bay” region of Mars’ Gale Crater.
“We wanted to be sure we had an optimal target for the first use,” added Diana Trujillo of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the head of Dust Removal Tool operations. “We need to place the instrument within less than half an inch of the target without putting the hardware at risk. We needed a flat target, one that wasn’t rough, one that was covered with dust. The results certainly look good.”
The brush tool, according to NASA, is a motorized, wire-bristle brush designed to prepare selected rock surfaces for enhanced inspection by the rover’s science instruments. NASA engineer say it is built into the turret at the end of the rover’s arm and it has the ability to examine rock specimens that would not be accessible due to the blanket of dust.
The discovery is the latest in a series of stunning discoveries made by the U.S.-built rover. Since landing on Mars in August of last year, NASA has unveiled a number of findings, including additional evidence supporting the theory that water once flowed across the Martian landscape. NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory project, which coordinates the rover’s missions, is using Curiosity to investigate whether the study area within Mars’ Gale Crater has offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life. The rover arrived in Gale Crater in mid-December and has spent the last several weeks preparing its tools to begin the latest set of missions, which include testing samples of dust left over from zapping rock with its laser.
NASA’s $2.5 billion Curiosity rover will continue its mission in Yellowknife Bay and “Snake River.” Yellowknife Bay is the temporary destination for first use of Curiosity’s rock-powdering drill, before the mission turns southwestward for driving to its main destination on the slope of Mount Sharp.