NASA’s Curiosity rover has spied a potential meteorite on Mars, which would be the third it has found since it landed in August 2012.
An image of the rock was snapped by Curiosity’s Mastcam on January 12, 2017. As noted by Bob King for Universe Today, who first picked up the story, there are three dots on the meteorite – which shows it was zapped by Curiosity’s ChemCam instrument.
"This shiny object, called 'Ames Knob', was noticed in recent images from Curiosity," Guy Webster, a spokesperson for NASA, told IFLScience.
Curiosity uses its ChemCam laser to study rocks on Mars, observing the resulting vaporized material to see what they’re made of. When it did this for its last meteorite in November 2016, called Egg Rock, it had a nickel-iron composition. And it looks fairly similar to this one, so they may have the same composition.
"[Ames Knob] resembles the iron-nickel meteorite 'Egg Rock' that Curiosity examined in November, so this target was inspected with the laser-firing ChemCam spectrometer," noted Webster. "It yielded similar results."
The fact this latest meteorite is fairly smooth suggests it is also quite a new meteorite, although given that Mars has a thinner atmosphere than Earth, it may have simply experienced less erosion. The first meteorite seen by Curiosity, called Lebanon and spotted in May 2014, also had a similar appearance.
This is Lebanon, the first meteorite seen by Curiosity, in May 2014. NASA/JPL-Caltech
And this is Curiosity's second meteorite, Egg Rock, seen in October 2016. NASA/JPL-Caltech
There’s a bit of a puzzle about these meteorites, though. On Earth, 95 percent of all meteorites are stony, and only 4.4 percent are iron. But so far on Mars, all eight meteorites seen (three by Curiosity and five by Opportunity) have been iron.
“Why no large stony meteorites have yet to be been found on Mars is puzzling,” writes King. “Maybe they simply blend in too well with all the other rocks littering the Martian landscape. Or perhaps they erode more quickly on Mars than the metal variety.”
At any rate, this latest find is no less interesting. NASA hasn't released any results from the ChemCam study yet, but maybe they'll be forthcoming in the future.
(H/T: Universe Today)