A rock crushed under the Curiosity Mars rover’s wheels has dazzled mission scientists in more ways than one.
Mars is supposed to be the Red Planet, but the rock - dubbed "Tintina" - is a brilliant shade of white.
The unusual colour indicates the presence of hydrated minerals that formed when water flowed through the robot’s landing site in ancient times.
Water-bearing minerals in Tintina and elsewhere add to the growing catalogue of water evidence at this location.
Rover team members have been presenting mission findings at the 44th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) in The Woodlands, Texas.
It was also announced that the rover has suffered another computer glitch; Curiosity had already been recovering from a memory problem discovered earlier in the month.
The description of hydrated minerals at Gale Crater follows an announcement last week that Curiosity had found clay minerals in a rock it had drilled. These clays indicate formation in, or substantial alteration by, neutral water.
That is significant for showing that conditions on the Red Planet could have supported life in the distant past, because many rocks studied previously were probably deposited in acidic water.
Speaking here in The Woodlands, near Houston, chief scientist John Grotzinger described Curiosity’s landing site as the first truly habitable environment found on Mars.
"What we’re really excited about is that this is the first time we’ve been able to follow through with a whole suite of different measurements that really demonstrate the place we found at Gale Crater was a very viable, habitable environment," he told BBC News.
Prof Grotzinger added that the team "felt really good" about the Martian location.
The one-tonne Nasa rover has been exploring Gale Crater, near the Martian equator, since touching down in August 2012. It drove over Tintina on 17 January, breaking it open to expose the dazzling white interior.
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1. Support for Hate Crimes Legislation
Do you support or oppose the federal law that requires increased penalties for hate crimes committed on the basis of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or gender of any person?
2. Support for Expanding Hate Crimes
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