While staring at images of Mars’ surface, researchers with NASA’s Curiosity rover recently noticed something strange– a small, round metallic-looking rock – which they dubbed “Egg Rock”.
Using its on-board scientific laser, Curiosity was able to test the golf ball-sized rock and determine that it is a metallic meteorite that successfully made it through Mars’ thin atmosphere. While meteorites have been found on the Martian surface in the past, this was the first time Curiosity was able to test one using its laser spectrometer, dubbed its “ChemCam”.
Since landing on the Red Planet in 2012, Curiosity has made a number of fairly surprising discoveries. So far, Curiosity has found evidence that water once filled the Gale Crater, the existence of methane and organic molecules, sedimentary formations, and another odd ball-shaped stone.
Finding and Studying the Strange Rock
Egg Rock was first seen in an image that was captured by Curiosity on October 28.After the initial observation, the rover then captured a two-frame image of the meteorite and studied it using the ChemCam. This supplied not just a close-up of the unusual object, but also a means for chemical investigation.
ChemCam operates by shooting laser pulses at items of interest. When an object is hit by the laser, electrons are excited and release light of different wavelengths, or colors, based on the elements that are being hit by the laser. By examining the light that is release, Curiosity can then ascertain just what an object is made from.
Egg Rock was found to be comprised of iron, nickel, phosphorous and a few other elements, which led researchers to decide it is a meteorite that isn’t native to the Red Planet. These kinds of meteorites come from the liquid centers of asteroids.
“Iron meteorites provide records of many different asteroids that broke up, with fragments of their cores ending up on Earth and on Mars,” Horton Newsom, a ChemCam team member, said in a statement. “Mars may have sampled a different population of asteroids than Earth has.”
Egg Stone may have dropped to Mars millions of years ago, NASA said. Scientists will be examining the ChemCam information from the initial laser shots at each target point and information from follow-up shots at the same point, to contrast exterior versus interior chemistry.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
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