mars plastic

Shiny Object on Mars Update: Likely ‘Benign’ Plastic

Article Updated: 23 Dec , 2015

Curiosity sol 62 ChemCam image detail. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Image processing courtesy 2di7 & titanio44 on Flickr.

Lost earring? Cigarette butt? Those were just a couple of ideas tossed around loosely by the public about what this unusual object could be, found laying near the Mars Curiosity rover. The rover team is still looking closely at the shiny object, seen in images of the sandy regolith near the rover, and they issued a report today saying their initial assessment is that the bright object is something from the rover, and not Martian material. It appears to be a shred of plastic material, “likely benign,” they said, but it has not been definitively identified.

A loose piece of plastic or insulating tape may have jarred free during the rover’s shaking of the sample of Martian regolith it recently scooped up.

The team will proceed cautiously and will spend another day investigating new images before deciding whether to resume processing of the sample in the scoop. Plans include imaging of surroundings with the Mastcam, and perhaps looking at the rover itself, too, for any chips or loose parts.

One of the rover drivers, Scott Maxwell said on Twitter that the entire team was working hard to figure that out what could have possibly come loose from the rover and they are “crawling over rover model, tracking down testing records, etc. We simply don’t know yet.”

A sample of sand and dust scooped up on Sol 61 remains in the scoop, and plan to transfer it from the scoop into other chambers of the sample-processing device were postponed as a precaution during planning for Sol 62 after the small, bright object was detected.

Curiosity sol 62 ChemCam view of the bright object on the ground. Image: NASA/JPL -Caltech. Anaglyph processing courtesy 2di7 & titanio44 on Flickr.

The shaking being done by the rover is to clean it of any residual oils that may be left inside, which could skew any results from the two onboard chemical labs, known as Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM), and the Chemical and Mineralogy experiment (CheMin.)

Daniel Limonadi, the Lead Systems Engineer for Curiosity’s Surface Sampling and science systems told reporters last week that the cleansing was required even though the hardware is “super-squeaky-clean when it’s delivered and assembled. By virtue of its just being on Earth, you get a kind of residual oily film that is impossible to avoid,” he said.

Once the soil has been shaken and stirred through the chambers, it’ll be ejected from the mechanism and ‘poop’ it back onto the Martian surface. “We effectively use it to rinse out our mouth three times and then kind of spit out,” Limonadi said.

The images here were sent in by Universe Today reader Elisabetta Bonora who zoomed in and created 3-D views of the images of the shiny piece. See more here.

Interesting to note, closeup views reveal more spherical “blueberries” similar to what the Opportunity rover found at its landing site in Meridiani Planum and at its current location near Endeavour Crater, too.

60 Responses

  1. Lawdog says:

    Tomorrow’s headlines: Proof of Life on Mars! Curiosity Rover Finds Plastic!

  2. space_sailor says:

    resembles miniature PET bottle thorn and flatened. Not natural for sure. It could be kind of isolation which fall from the hole for missing screw someone spoted.

  3. Tyler K says:

    Probably just a shiny rock, but then again, maybe martians are litterbugs like we are.

  4. I wonder why they don’t just scoop it up and stick it under Curiositys microscope? Perhaps it’s too big / they’re scared because of its size, it might get stuck in the compartment?

    “Extra Extra! Dud-Plastic find ruins multi-billion dollar mission to mars! Nasa Rover-Boss to be executed!”

    • SJStar says:

      How much more dumping has happened on this pristine environment, I wonder?

      NASA Boss Rover should be firstly dragged over the coals, then be drawn and quartered!

      Report him to the UN for crimes against humanity!! I’d say.

  5. Aqua4U says:

    Mmm.. the shredded remnant from an early probe or lander from a hypersonic atmospheric entry boo-boo? THAT
    s been known to happen. The biological appearance of this specimen with it’s resplendence to a washed up on the beach then de-hydrated jellyfish or soem kine of giant space amoeba is interesting from a sci-fi writer’s point of view anyway?

    • SJStar says:

      For once you are 110% correct.

      Shows the US is not fit to represent the whole of humanity. Vandels I say. Vandals!

  6. Dampe says:

    C’mon guys, it was probably just a Wallaby.

  7. GmailIsDown says:

    i want to believe…in conspiracy theories

  8. john popp says:

    some of the best camers known to man and we get this cmon man

  9. SJStar says:

    America. Now known as the “polluters and garbage dumpers of the universe!”
    So much for respecting new pristine environments for scientific scrutiny!

    First possibly exposing the Martian to Earth-bound microbes, now dumping its filthy garbage on the Martian soil. Shame. shame, shame!
    Basically the US is a country out of control, whose presumed jingoistic superiority is really irritating every other country who is acutely aware of the precarious problems happening right now here on Earth. Space is the only baton for all our survival of our entire species, and the US bureaucracy thinks not one iota what it actually important.
    Leader of the free world. Ha! What a joke! Boo!

    • spew says:

      I’d hate to break it to you and your melodrama, but we’ve been dumping and depositing stuff all over the solar system, and now beyond for quite sometime. We have a cloud of debris of space junk orbiting Earth. We’ve got Venera 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14 either dumped on Venus somewhere or orbiting it. We’ve got the Vega 1 and 2 landers also on Venus; both the Veneras and the Vega projects were all projects from the USSR (Russian)! I got bitten by the melodrama bug and I’m trying to contain myself here. I can keep going with the different things sent out by different nations, but then I’d have to write a book about all the things that we sent out into space and how once they stop working and become of no use, they are considered junk or garbage, or however you’d like to refer to something that is deposited on a different planet that doesn’t work anymore. Why isn’t UT writing articles about how different countries are depositing junk all over the solar system? Why do they keep being American-centric in their reporting? Not fair!!!! Write about what happens to the rover and the Russian made P-238 fissile source that will sit on Mars and pollute it long after the program is over. (sarcasm and melodrama mix)

      In all seriousness, we (humankind) all should take pride in what is being accomplished regardless of whether China sent it, or Russia. As such, we should all be held accountable for our behavior. It’s man made, and I’m proud that we’ve accomplished so much in space exploration and I look forward to future projects by any nation to further the progress and development of mankind’s understanding of the universe.

      • SJStar says:

        I do condone other countries for the behaviour, but I do so more to Americans because they are always claiming to do this for “all humanity” and are presumed “leaders” in astronautics. If they want to claim this, then they should be held to a much higher standard.

        Hypocrisy immediately come to mind.
        Like most of the responses here, they are so typical of American attitudes, who seem totally incapable of seeing beyond their narrow-minded view of the world. Any criticism, and they immediately cloak or veil themselves behind spin and automatically blame everything else but their obvious failure. (Russian Pl-238 is the specific example by you.)

      • spew says:

        trololololol…actually my narrow-minded view of the world was mocking you by parsing and regurgitating one of your many asinine comments:
        “Yawn… This is not news. Really. Yet another typical US biassed article touted-out by Universe Today. Have you no shame?
        Tell you what. Why don’t you show us or write a story on the Russian Plutonium-238 that powers this Rover, that come from one of their old reactors?”
        I made sure to include a lot of Russian space junk (just the way you like it), wrap in an eloquently succinct two paragraphs (there was a LOT of Russian space junk to feed you; that makes it really difficult), and make sure it was coherent and logical. Then, to the effect of the “OH the humanity” melodrama that you’ve been feeding us, and the response to your incessant demands that you write about the content of the articles on this site, I tried to feign the whining that you do so well about the injustices of whatever.

        I concluded it with a touching yet truthful sentiment of mine about space exploration. My point? You make it really, really, really tough to resist mocking you and it’s so easy because almost all that is written by you is nonsense. Do you even understand what you write half the time? “I do condone other countries for their behavior,…” So you’re whining a few paragraphs up about how evil the US is, but now you really approve of their polluting such a “pristine” environment more than you approve other governments? “Hypocrisy does come…” to your mind fast, doesn’t it?

        You do know that this UT site aims to appeal to all by posting articles from NASA’s involvement in the community to astrophysics, and you’re not forced to read them all. Since you have such an issue with this site because their content baffles your behaviorally perturbed mind, shouldn’t you show them how you could do better by having your SJSTAR Today site? You could definitely do better to moderate what appears and what doesn’t. You could even control who posts. You could even give as many thumbs down to every American that shows up and makes a clear statement, because you’re that petty to spend a great deal of time going around clicking thumbs down on every dissenting argument that doesn’t fit your very limited views.

        You could do better elsewhere.

      • SJStar says:

        Plutonium-238 is not a biohazard.

        “..a risk to the environment arising from biological work, esp. with microorganisms.”

        Plutonium is a metal not a biological / organic substance. Plastic is.

        To quote NASA ( itself.

        “It should be added in conclusion that if life in not found on Mars, a determination of why this is the case will also add much to our understanding of the nature of life, and the role of planetary evolution in its genesis.”

        Get the facts, not the heresay.

      • spew says:

        Rofl… you sure are dense.
        I don’t care if P-238 is ambrosia for exotic space organisms, I was simply parsing from your asinine comment from a while back.

        It’s funny that you’re using NASA as a source.

        You have such disdain for anything American that you fling the term with such conviction it seems as if there is envy underneath it all. Where’s your national space program? That’s right, all you do is hang around reading NASA websites. Why don’t you go read about your own country’s space program and try to see if there’s even one to consider lodging a complaint.

      • spew says:

        You’re most likely not able to understand what I’m writing because you haven’t gotten the message yet. I am making fun of you, space cadet. This is how the forums regulated themselves. Get used to it. 😉

      • SJStar says:

        Patronising statements like this is no argument but is plainly avoidance of the subject at hand.

      • spew says:

        What happens when one whines and is a bigot? You have yourself talking to yourself only. No one is really reading your posts. You should look at the negative ratings you’re incurring; you spend quite a lot of time going around voting down every dissenting argument.

    • Ken Lord says:

      Wow, everyone gather around … look at this funny person who has NO CONCEPT of how big space is, and how big planets are. There is no more than a few tons of material sent by us on the entire planet of Mars … but one extra shred of plastic, most likely dropped by Curiosity … AND OMGWTFBBQ we’re killing the UniverSe!!11!!

      How much crap does SJStar drop into our environment, intentional or otherwise everyday? Garbage and microbes?

    • William Sparrow says:

      Exhibit A… What exactly do you hope to accomplish with your ceaseless America bashing. It really invalidates the occasional lucid post you manage to create.

    • SJStar says:

      You guys here clearly don’t get it.

      Plastic is a pollutant on Mars because of the hydrocarbons it contains. On Mars, UV-radiation with rapidly breakdown the plastic, whose constituents could interfere with any possible hardy life-form – poisson it or interfere with it living processes. Agreed it might be improbable, but what damage a pristine environment suffers is often historically only known after the fact.

      We want to search for life on Mars, but silly mistakes like this one could make conclusions of a possible discovery in jeopardy. Biohazards are critical issue to space exploration in the solar system, and haphazard mistakes like this just make it more difficult. Humans who wish to explore the universe should at first respect the environment and not contaminate it.

      Plastics are a biohazard, and the failure is to everyone associated with the mission!

      • spew says:


        We understand, space cadet. You’re simply not conveying the message correctly. Here’s some advice AGAIN because you’re not getting it still after many times being told by many.

        Coming off as a bigot will get you NOWHERE. It doesn’t matter if you’re the smartest guy in the room. You go in to any place and start talking garbage, all we’ll hear is garbage and background noise.

        If you had argued what you just posted above in the beginning instead of coming here like a cowboy, blazing with your anti-American rhetoric, people would had read and paid more attention to your writing. Newsflash!!! Not all Americans are alike. It’s a very diverse culture. If you’re going to bash an agency for their carelessness, start with the NASA organization. It would be a more acceptable argument than if you continued with your hyper-political bs. You apparently do not understand the American culture from wherever you are by what you’re writing. I suggest that you should look into the what is meant as cultural America before commenting on it. You simply do not understand. We aren’t all whitewashed here. It’s a “melting pot”; this is a term used constantly to describe us, but it doesn’t begin to encapsulate us because not all things are melting at the same rate. So there’s friction and there’s diversity which all contributes to a weird dynamic of the fabric of our society.

        It’s funny that you bash the great narrow-minded America because a lot of people who come here with nothing on their backs from their home for whatever reason know what it’s like to suffer the indignity of poverty and repression. By you bashing that, you’re bashing the people who made a life for themselves here who are foreigners such yourself and your neighbors. I at least respect where you come from and your people regardless of the type of trash you are in your society. I might find most of what you say distasteful, but I respect your country and your people. I know the easy way for an ignoramus is to simply insult your origins, and we all can do that, but if you have noticed none of us had here because this is a forum and there are “unwritten” guidelines about what is discussed here. That is why I can definitely say you do not know what you write half the time. You’re simply taking the easy way out and not thinking about the things you saying.

        I’ll be nice once: Please be mindful of what you’re writing. Your safest bet is to avoid writing about politics, religion, and race. If you do that, we’re all kosher here and we can begin to have a dialogue. I rather have you part of the discussion about everything, than to have you ignored and marginalized. Please…

        Thank you.

      • SJStar says:

        Someone has to stand up to gross and wanton hypocrisy here. Cultural America is mostly a stinking vacuous self-absorbed backwater, whose once great empire is now on its last knees — both economically and intellectually. It is quite clear you don’t understand the implications of the carelessness of NASA here nor of the importance of behaving morally and ethically when it comes to exploration of this world or beyond.

        All the “crimes against humanity” ever made are beyond countries, their borders, their empty rhetoric, or even what contributions they may or may not done. Damaging pristine environments is one of them, and although you might think you are getting away with it now, no doubt dreadful failures like this one will sometime in the future will be held against you.

        I have mentioned nothing about “politics, religion, and race.” [America is not a ‘race’, BTW, which most Americans cannot seem to fathom — a sure sign of unfettered arrogance.]

        It is about protecting places we don’t yet fully understand nor have fully investigated. All human influence should be taken out of the process, so that results are not tainted by our exploration. Really. Everyone has that responsibility, otherwise the free-for-all means the universe is only there for exploitation and not for knowledge and the betterment of ourselves as a species.

        So why can’t the Neanderthals like you understand that?

        Frankly I need not your thanks nor your opinion. Disagree, well that’s fine. Lecture me like this again, and I will be even more direct and forthright. So please, don’t fracken patronise me with your quite sicken diatribe, as it only reenforces my point.

      • spew says:

        the term “racial discrimination” shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin that has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.[

        Hey, here’s to burst your bubble again, TROLL;what you’re doing is basically categorizing me and all of us here as arrogant Americans, just simply because we are American and you’re too ignorant to understand our culture and it’s diversity. This definition is what the UN defines as racial discrimination. To simply identify someone because of their cultural origins such as Irish being drunk, Cubans being Communist rafters, Polish being stupid, French being snooty, Russian being vodka drinking Communists, Colombians being drug smugglers is all what is defined by racial discrimination. It is unfortunate that you are very stupid to understand that in the United States, a lot of us identify ourselves as being from another country because it is a nation where many people from many different backgrounds all co-mingle to form a very fragile relationship and try to understand each other.

        I feel sorry that you came across some “stereotypical” American that made your very insignificant life feel even less significant to the point that you write all this vitriol about Americans and how we’re all bad people and we take our plastic polluting ways and blaze across the stars killing everything in our path because of your initial low self-esteem issues and your inadequacies. It wasn’t me. It certainly wasn’t my parents. I didn’t build the rocket that sent the rover to break your heart. If you’re thinking that we all get to choose all the politicians in office, you’re wrong again; I’m lucky if I get my pick. I’m not going get upset at all the common Chinese people because China decided to restrict google, impose some tariff against US products, block my website, etc. I am smart enough to know that there is a difference between the government and the people; I have very little say on how the government handles international relations.

        I might not be that guy that broke your heart, but I’m the guy calling you a piece of garbage bigot who is a hypocrite and an ignoramus who has no understanding about the world around him. You’re a idiot who claims we have to keep a pristine environment, but doesn’t understand that when we leave a hunk of metal, we’ve forever tainted that environment. Who’s going to pick up the rovers and their plastic parts off of mars when their done? You, space janitor? How about Venera 3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13, 14, Vega 1,2, Voyager 1,2, and all the space debris orbiting Earth? Hmmm… it makes your cry for us to clean up that piece of plastic very insignificant and trivial. Your argument, no matter how loud you shout into your monitor that you hide behind like a coward that you are, is lost in void because you’ve alienated everyone by being a BIGOT. Basically, No one gives a damn about your point because you have proven to be an idiot. You can continue to shout (type) all you want, but people will continue to ignore you because you have shown nothing worth reading. Your argument is moot, since I blew it away with the rest of the space junk and trivialized it to a point of insignificance. I’m the only one giving you attention, but you’re simply too stupid and you’re a troll. As such, I will treat you as such. I’ve given you too much attention as is, but I’ll be sure to warn others about you.

        What was your point again? Don’t bother; I don’t care…

      • SJStar says:


      • spew says:

        Trolling with moot arguments. Come to the table with some legit arguments, leave behind your bigotry, then you’ll have the respect reciprocated.

      • spell7 says:

        I suspect many, if not most, on this site need not YOUR opinions or lectures. They are repetitive, arrogant, condescending, intended to offend and add little to no value to the dialogue. Sounds much like the very accusations you levy against NASA and America, does it not?

      • SJStar says:

        … I thought you were going to go away. American and mendacious as well. Thanks. You proved my exact point!

      • spell7 says:

        I can “go away” if you so desire but I would like to get some value out of the discussion on exploration. By the way, nice vocabulary but inaccurate.

        Back to the issue – what is the international acceptable level of risk mitigation that must be achieved before exploration can be allowed?

      • spew says:

        You’re a troll. Point proven… next?

      • spew says:

        What was your point again? You say America with such conviction it seems as if there is envy underneath it all. Where’s your national space program? That’s right, all you do is hang around reading NASA websites. Why don’t you go read about your own country’s space program and try to see if there’s even one to consider lodging a complaint.

      • spew says:

        Funny thing about this “self-absorbed backwater” for a country that is in financial trouble: we’re sending things up into space along with another few select countries and writing about it. You’re reading our websites and posting from them. Rhetorical question (meaning your answer doesn’t matter): Where’s your country’s space program?

  10. Algis Kemezys says:

    HOLY COW this is fun…

  11. sdf says:

    billions of dollars and all we get are some fuzzy black and white images?

  12. uhmm.. maybe they’re hiding some info

  13. Ken Lord says:

    There’s no dust on the object. There would be if it had sat there for any length of time, even if it came from the descent vehicals.

    It came from Curiosity.

  14. 1st photo: bread crumbs, 2nd: pizza topped with frozen mozarella, video: wow!!!!

  15. Olaf2 says:

    Where have all those moron’s gone that complained about the low image quality?
    They are awful silent.

  16. Obviously Not Much "Curiosity" says:

    Even if the object was something interesting, they would never tell us anyway, so I guess we just have to accept whatever they say or dimiss it as…meh!

  17. Wayne Coolidge says:

    They will find something that will completly make threir jaws drop to the floor

  18. Not a good sign for the rover engineers. What part of the rover did it come from and why did it come off? The potential for a system failure looms with something like this happening. Did a wire get pinched by the arm? Did debris from the descent rockets hit something? A big question to be answered.

  19. SJStar says:

    NASA takes these matters seriously, and failures by them are equally serious. Not basing opinions on just here-say, those really wanting to positively debate this problem seriously should read NASA’s free book by Michael Meltzer “When Biospheres Collide : A History of NASA’s Planetary Protection Programs.” (2010) at

    As it says on the inside of the dustcover straight away.

    “Each time a space vehicle visits another world it runs the risk of forever changing that extraterrestrial environment.”

    This is what I am arguing is central to proper means of space exploration.

    • spew says:

      No one cares, troll.

      • SJStar says:

        Here’s the true definition of cowardice. Losing an argument, and they call you everything under the sun for the failings of their own inadequacies.

        Please stop acting as patronising prig!

      • spew says:

        No one cares, troll.

      • spew says:

        No one cares about your definition of cowardice, loser. Apparently, respect is reciprocated; you’re deserving of none since you’re a BIGOT. I made my point against your fallacious argument; call it what you want, but yours was rendered moot and you couldn’t come at me with anything more than anti-american slurs. Good job, loser. Great way to lose by convincing others that what you’re offering is nothing of value; what little value you had was tossed when you started off rambling about the injustices of all Americans destroying the universe. Keep convincing yourself that people are listening.

    • spell7 says:

      Are you proposing that we cease space exploration (with the exception of passive methods) until someone can develop systems that guarantee 100% risk mitigation? If so, do you realistically expect such a goal can be accomplished?

      • SJStar says:

        No. I’ve never said nor do I think that.

      • spell7 says:

        You may not have made that exact statement but your posts in general give that impression. Perhaps you are more critical simply because the organization is NASA and based in the USA? What role do you or the international community see as appropriate for NASA?

      • SJStar says:

        Get stuffed!

      • spell7 says:

        Bear with me – I can be a little slow about these things. Consider me sufficiently stuffed as well.

        I take your response to indicate you, or the international community, feel there is no viable role for NASA and by extension the USA in space exploration. If my interpretation is correct, then we can move forward on the discussion of risk mitigation for the exploration of planets and moons in our solar system. If I am incorrect, please clarify so I can better understand the frame of this discussion.

  20. Robert Betz says:

    lol I could swear it looks like a cross between a cicada and a shrimp. If you look closely it even looks like two antennae sticking out from the left side of it.

  21. Torbjörn Larsson says:

    Assuming the identification of this as duct tape (or something similar) is correct, what are the risks?

    #1. Earth derived plastic gets into the SAM. A serious risk for incapacitating much of it and its ability to look at pristine martian samples. This is likely why they want to understand what and how much came off. (Eg is there more in the scoop? The filters will stop the larger stuff, but not the smaller flakes.)

    High risk, bad outcome for the main mission targets.

    #2. Curiosity is incapacitated in some function, whether by vital plastics coming off or getting stuck in mechanisms.

    Low risk, some problems for the main mission targets.

    #3. Polluting the local biosphere.

    The surface is sterile by UV light, so no microbes are present or able to use hydrocarbons as a nutrient source.

    Any extant life would most likely still be using carbon dioxide as the main source for carbon fixation. It is readily available, and phylogenetics predicts this was what early autotrophs used here up until the domain diversification or in other words likely for half the biosphere age. [“The Emergence and Early Evolution of Carbon-Fixation”, Braakman et al, PLOS Comp Biol 2012; “The evolution and functional repertoire of translation proteins following the origin of life”, Goldman et al, Biol Dir 2010.]

    Over the coming years this plastic will break down into water and carbon dioxide (and possibly ammonia if nitrogen based), all chemicals extant in the biosphere. In other words this is a harmless nutrient source that will not affect the biosphere at all.

    If you are looking for a much bigger piece of imported hydrocarbons, look at the chutes, backshell, defunct crafts – all of which will undergo the same breakdown and have the same null effect on any existing biosphere.

  22. Sigh, I came here looking for some interesting discussion and all I found was SJStar. He has made me a sad panda.

  23. Knight says:

    To me looking at it quickly in black and white, it kind of looks more like a shell… A shell of a small lobster or shrimp.

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