Feeds

Mars rover stalks mystery space alien object

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

Build a business case: developing custom apps

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. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Brit amateur payload set to complete full circle around PLANET EARTH
Ultralight solar radio tracker in glorious 25,000km almost-space odyssey
Boffins spot weirder quantum capers as neutrons take the high road, spin takes the low
Cheshire cat effect see neutrons and their properties walk different paths
NASA Mars rover FINALLY equals 1973 Soviet benchmark
Yet to surpass ancient Greek one, however
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Maximize storage efficiency across the enterprise
The HP StoreOnce backup solution offers highly flexible, centrally managed, and highly efficient data protection for any enterprise.