While using its robotic arm-mounted Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera to take some close up photos of the surface of a rocky outcrop at a location dubbed “Yellowknife Bay” on Dec. 19 (sol 132 of the mission), a bright object could be seen in one of the raw images uploaded to the mission’s website. Its discovery has caused quite a stir on AboveTopSecret.com where it was first reported.
Alerted to the mystery feature, MSNBC’s Alan Boyle assumed it was just another piece of litter accidentally dropped from the rover. However, this isn’t the case. On putting the question to NASA spokesman Guy Webster, it appears initial analysis has confirmed it is part of the rock and not something dropped on top.
It is described as looking like a flower. At first, it was assumed to be a plastic piece. But, as this article notes, it is likely a concentration of minerals actually embedded in the rock. The pearl-like or waxy luster reflects light. Perhaps quartz or another evaporate mineral? That does suggest fluids which are needed to grow crystals. Note that this was taken with the Mars Hand Lens Imager so the size in in millimeters or even micrometers. For more on the MAHLI, go here.
Mars Curiosity has sure piqued many other’s curiosity as some of the photos have shown oddities.
The full-resolution picture can be found here.