The Curiosity rover has discovered a metal asteroid on Mars - the first of its type ever discovered by NASA's newest rover on the planet. This massive iron meteorite has been named "Lebanon" by mission controllers.
The object is about six feet wide, and lies next to a smaller piece of the same object, dubbed "Lebanon B." The object was found to be the same luster as iron-rich meteorites previously discovered by the Spit and Opportunity rovers.
An image of the objects was composed from combining images taken by the Mast Camera (MastCam) and Curiosity's Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument.
"The component images were taken during the 640th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (May 25, 2014)," Curiosity mission controllers stated.
Sharp, angular features were seen on the metallic meteorite. Researchers believe these could have been formed through uneven erosion between crystalline and metal components of the object. Another, less likely possibility, is that the meteorite once contained olivine, a crystalline mineral occasionally found in metal-rich meteorites.
Stoney meteorites are far more common on Earth than metal-rich specimens. On Mars, that proportion is reversed. Astronomers believe iron-rich objects are better able to withstand processes of erosion on the Red Planet.
Curiosity is examining rocks and crust on Mars, attempting to find areas which may have once been able to support life. Astronomers hope that better understanding of past climatic conditions on the planet will help answer the question of whether or not life ever developed on the Red Planet.
Curiosity was launched from Cape Canaveral on 26 November 2011. The vehicle safely touched down in Gale Crater on 6 August 2012. The craft was designed as a test of technologies for the upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission.
Pallasites, or meteorites containing the mineral olive, are one of the most beautiful - and collectable - types of space rocks. Some of the yellow-green material encased in a nickel-iron structure can be the same quality as commercially-available peridot.
Laser aboard the Curiosity rover is used to determine the chemical makeup of rocks. This instrument has been put into operation thousands of times since the rover landed on Mars two years ago. For the first time, NASA has released an image of the laser in actions, flashing light on a rock about the size of a baseball.
"This is so exciting! The ChemCam laser has fired more than 150,000 times on Mars, but this is the first time we see the plasma plume that is created," Sylvestre Maurice, ChemCam Deputy Principal Investigator, said.