Curiosity Rover found Foreign Objects on the Red Planet

Curiosity Rover found Foreign Objects on the Red Planet

The mystery of the Pettegrove Point Foreign Object Debris (PPFOD) is finally solved.

The nuclear-powered mobile science laboratory Curiosity has been roving across the surface of Mars since 2012, searching for the conditions that may have once made Mars a habitable planet. Curiosity is the largest rover to be sent to Mars by NASA as it measures a length of 9 feet and weighs just under 2,000 pounds. This robot is equipped to carry out experiments that are far beyond the capabilities of its earlier counterparts, and, take photographs, some of which while being of scientific interest are nothing less than breathtaking.

Curiosity is armed with a ‘ChemCam’ that fires a laser to vaporize material for elemental composition analysis. Similarly, it has a robotic arm that facilitates the use of instruments such as the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer and the Mars Hand Lens Imager and implements for sample collection and analysis. The rover has 6 individually powered wheels of which the front and back two have 360o rotation capability giving Curiosity an excellent maneuvering ability. All of this is powered by a 10-pound Plutonium Dioxide MMRTG Nuclear Power Source.

Curiosity photographed an odd, flat object on 13th of August which led to some serious concerns that a panel might have fallen off the rover. Consequently, the oddly shaped object was named ‘Pettegrove Point Foreign Object Debris’. It was found around a landform known as the ‘Vera Rubin Ridge that the Curiosity has been exploring for approximately 11 months. However, the latest findings revealed that there is nothing to worry about as the PPFOD isn’t foreign at all. Brittney Cooper, an Atmospheric Scientist from the York University who was a member of the mission team, gave an update about it on 16th August by saying,

“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! The planning day began with an interesting result from the previous plan’s ChemCam RMI analysis of a target that was referred to as ‘Pettegrove Point Foreign Object Debris’, and speculated to be a piece of spacecraft debris. Perhaps the target should have been given a different name befitting the theme of the current quadrangle in which Curiosity resides: ‘Rabhadh Ceàrr,’ or ‘False Alarm’ in Scottish Gaelic.”

The scientific community has shown quite a lot of interest and speculation, ever since the picture of the object went public, concerning the origin of the object. The internet is full of theories ranging from space debris to UFOs. On the other hand, scientists soon clarified that the object was no more than a flake of a Martian rock. Having said that, online skeptical conspiracy theorists called foul pointing fingers at a NASA cover-up. Many people dismissed the objects reported geological origin stating that it looked too symmetrical. Another group asserted that the space agency’s explanation as to the object being a panel that had detached itself from Curiosity as being too simple.

Misinterpretation in this context is nothing new. It has been observed quite regularly that weird geological phenomena are misread and poorly identified by the general public which leads to a lot of conspiracies. NASA’s recently shared photo of a rock formation near the Marian South Pole has a striking resemblance to ‘Beaker the Muppet’. This created a lot of humor on the social media but the representatives of the space agency called it a Pareidolia. They said,

“Pareidolia is the psychological phenomenon where people see recognizable shapes in clouds, rock formations, or otherwise unrelated objects or data.”

According to Cooper, a rock named ‘Stoer’ was recently drilled at Pettegrove Point for analysis. The opacity of the Martian atmosphere is also being measured by Curiosity to monitor the global dust storm raging for the past two months on Mars. Though dissipating, the storm has injected so much dust into the air that Opportunity, Curiosity’s smaller solar-powered cousin, has been forced into hibernation. Curiosity landed on the red planet in August 2012 inside the 154-kilometre wide ‘Gale Crater’. The original task assigned to this rover was to determine whether Gale ever supported microbial life or not.

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