The Mars rover Curiosity has confirmed the identity of a small metallic globule, spotted last week by scientists in images captured by the rover’s Mastcam. New chemical analysis suggests it is an iron-nickel meteorite.
“The dark, smooth and lustrous aspect of this target, and its sort of spherical shape attracted the attention of some MSL scientists when we received the Mastcam images at the new location,” Pierre-Yves Meslin, an astrophysicist at the National Center for Scientific Research in France, explained in a press release.
Intrigued by the globule’s appearance, scientists working on the Curiosity mission instructed the rover to analyze the object with its laser powered ChemCam. The instrument fired a series of laser pulses at the meteorite from various angles.
Initial readings suggest the presence of iron, nickel and phosphorus, a common trifecta in iron-nickel meteorites — evidence of its likely origin inside the molten core of a melting asteroid.
“Iron meteorites provide records of many different asteroids that broke up, with fragments of their cores ending up on Earth and on Mars,” explained Horton Newsom, a scientist on the ChemCam team and a researcher at the University of New Mexico. “Mars may have sampled a different population of asteroids than Earth has.”
Newsom, Meslin and other ChemCam team members are currently analyzing the results of the laser pulses bounced off Egg Rock. Researchers hope to compare the meteorite’s surface composition to its insides in order to gauge how long it has been resting on the Martian surface, exposed to the elements. Scientists also want to compare Egg Rock to meteorite samples found elsewhere on Mars — and to meteorite samples from Earth.
In the meantime, Curiosity will continue its way up Mount Sharp in search of evidence of ancient environmental shifts on Mars.
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