Congratulations, Curiosity, it’s a meteorite!
This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.
Here’s a reminder Earth isn’t the only planet with cool meteorites. Mars gets its share of incoming space rocks too. NASA’s Curiosity rover discovered a beauty of a specimen in the Gale Crater in late January.
The rock — named “Cacao” by the rover team — stood out from the surrounding landscape. “The rock we are parked in front of is one of several very dark-colored blocks in this area which seem to have come from elsewhere, and we are calling ‘foreign stones,'” wrote Curiosity team member Ashley Stroupe in a rover update on Jan. 27. “Our investigations will help determine if this is a block from elsewhere on Mars that just has been weathered in an interesting way or if it is a meteorite.”
A closer investigation revealed the shiny, dark-gray pockmarked object is a meteorite. “Rock. Rock. Rock. Rock. Rock. Rock. METEORITE!” the rover team tweeted on Thursday, saying it’s not uncommon to find meteorites on Mars, but that a change in scenery is always nice.
Rock. Rock. Rock. Rock. Rock. Rock. METEORITE!
It’s not uncommon to find meteorites on Mars – in fact, I’ve done it a few times! (see 🧵) But a change in scenery’s always nice.
This one’s about a foot wide and made of iron-nickel. We’re calling it “Cacao.” pic.twitter.com/I37HiGjN2t
— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) February 2, 2023
According to NASA, the meteorite is made of iron-nickel, making it a type of meteorite also commonly found on Earth. It’s a good-sized object, measuring in at about a foot (30 centimeters) wide. It’s larger than a potential meteorite spotted by Curiosity earlier in January.
NASA took the occasion of the new meteorite discovery to look back on some other awesome finds, including meteorites called “Egg Rock” and “Lebanon” (an absolute unit also known as The Beast). These show just how variable the sizes of meteorites can be on Mars.
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Meteorites aren’t just a thing of the past on the red planet. NASA’s recently defunct InSight lander picked up the sound of space rocks crashing into Mars in 2020 and 2021.
Curiosity has been driving around the Gale Crater since 2012 as it seeks to understand whether the red planet might have once been habitable for microbial life. Along the way, it’s opened a treasure chest of otherworldly sights. The newly identified meteorite is one of those objects that’s both fantastical and familiar. Our planets are very different, but we have many shared experiences, including space rocks.