Feeds

Mars rover stalks mystery space alien object

Droid crawler in thrilling chase vs. (immobile) 'cobble'

High performance access to file storage

NASA's interplanetary robot rover "Opportunity", prowling the haematite steppes of the Meridiani Planum on Mars, has crept up on and photographed a mysterious space boulder or "cobble". Astro boffins theorise that the object may be alien in origin, rather than from the red planet.

Block Island pictured by NASA rover Opportunity

Alien robot meets extramartian space boulder.

The boulder/cobble was originally spotted by NASA boffins in charge of the rover on July 18. However, Opportunity had by that point driven well past the object, codenamed "Block Island" by NASA. The droid rover, which moves at a crawl, has since been laboriously creeping some 250m back on its tracks to get a proper look at the possible space rock.

The space agency has now released close-up pics of "Block Island" (more here) and says that there are plans to confirm its alien extra-Martian origin by use of Opportunity's alpha-particle X ray spectrometer. Personally, we here on the Reg space desk are hoping it turns out to be a cryptic "nanodiamond" from the mysterious ureilite mother-planetoid, like the pieces discovered in the Nubian desert here on Earth recently.

Meanwhile, Opportunity's companion rover Spirit remains bogged down in a sand trap in the Gusev crater on the other side of the red planet. NASA brainboxes are engaged in a lengthy series of trials using a test rover in a sandbox on Earth, attempting to figure out a way of getting the trapped droid moving again.

Both Spirit and Opportunity have, however, continued to operate many times longer than they were expected to. NASA engineers originally thought that the Mars-prowling machines might manage to travel as much as a kilometer from their landing sites over lifetimes measured in months. In fact both machines remain in operation well over 5 years from landing. Opportunity has moved more than 17km as of the last update, and Spirit almost 8km.

NASA now plans to despatch a new, much larger - Humvee sized - nuclear powered rover (called the Mars Science Laboratory or MSL) to the red planet in 2011, following development and funding problems. The MSL had originally been planned to launch later this year. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Fancy joining Reg hack on quid-a-day challenge?
Recruiting now for charity starvation diet
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
Opportunity selfie: Martian winds have given the spunky ol' rover a spring cleaning
Power levels up 70 per cent as the rover keeps on truckin'
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.