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Curiosity scoops up SHINY BITS from the RED SANDS of MARS!

Prowling nuclear robot sieves and sniffs the dirt

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Curiosity's latest dig into Martian soil has uncovered yet more shiny objects, but this time boffins don't think they're from the rover.

Bright bit in hole dug by Curiosity

When the science truck swallowed its first solid sample of soil for analysis by its CheMin instrument to look at the minerals inside, it saw that bright bits were in the Martian sand.

The wee bits and pieces at first led to Curiosity dumping yet another scoop of soil out of its robotic arm, for fear that the shinies had come from Earth and would contaminate the sample. But when the small shiny specks kept showing up, scientists figured they must be part of the normal makeup of dirt on the Red Planet.

Just over a week ago, at the start of its first soil-gathering mission, the rover spotted a lone large bright object that mission control guessed had dropped off the rover itself somehow. The team put off grabbing more dirt with the robotic arm for a couple of days but after examination they reckoned it was manmade debris.

The new bright bits are smaller, there's more of them and they are located inside the hole that Curiosity dug, rather than laying on the surface.

"We plan to learn more both about the spacecraft material and about the smaller, bright particles," said Curiosity project manager Richard Cook. "We will finish determining whether the spacecraft material warrants concern during future operations. The native Mars particles become fodder for the mission's scientific studies."

The sample inside the rover, a sieved portion about the same size as a baby aspirin, was delivered to CheMin on Wednesday. Next, Curiosity will use Martian scoops to scrub out its other internal analytic instrument, the Sample Analysis at Mars, which will also look at the soil's chemistry. ®

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