NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has photographed a shiny, metallic-looking object that bears a passing resemblance to a door handle or a hood ornament.
The Curiosity rover has not stumbled onto evidence of an ancient civilization that took the family van to Olympus Mons for vacation, however. The object is simply a rock that the wind has sculpted into an interesting shape, scientists said.
"The shiny surface suggests that this rock has a fine grain and is relatively hard," Curiosity scientists wrote Monday (Feb. 11) in an explainer blurb accompanying the image, which was taken on Jan. 30. "Hard, fine-grained rocks can be polished by the wind to form very smooth surfaces."
Similar "ventifacted" (wind-eroded) rocks can be found here on Earth, notably on the dry, gusty plains of Antarctica, they added.
The rover's main task is to determine whether its landing site — a huge crater called Gale — could ever have supported microbial life.
Curiosity carries 10 different scientific instruments and 17 cameras to aid in this quest.