NASA's Curiosity Rover confirms that an object the size of a golf ball examined with laser is, in fact, an iron-nickel meteorite that fell from Mars' sky. On Earth, iron-nickel meteorites are common space rocks, and the odd-looking objects have been observed on Mars before, as well.
However, it was the first time that such an object was analyzed with a laser-firing spectrometer. In order for the examination to take place, the rover team employed Curiosity's Chemistry and Camera instrument, or ChemCam.
The first time the rock was observed was when the scientists in charge of the Mars Science Laboratory project noticed images taken by the Curiosity's Mast Camera on Oct. 27 during a rover drive. Iron, nickel and phosphorus, along with laser ingredients, were found in the rock's composition during the ChemCam's drive.
However, their concentration is yet to be discovered. The team is currently carrying out an investigation of the light spectrum produced by dozens of laser pulses at nine spots on the object. According to the preliminary examination, the quantity of nickel and phosphorus suggests an iron-nickel-phosphide mineral, which is very rare to be found other than in iron-nickel meteorites.
The Meteorite's Origins
Iron meteorites are usually composed from a core material of asteroids that melt, which allows the molten metal in the asteroid's composition to get to the center and compose the core. Many iron meteorites carry records on how distinct asteroids broke up, as their fragments get to Earth or Mars. However, it is entirely possible that the asteroid population Mars got in its history is somewhat different to the one on Earth.
The analysis of the meteorites found on the red planet, some of which were found by other Mars rovers, can give insight on how the long exposure to the planet's environment has influenced them and their composition. The data can then be compared to the way Earth's environment has affected the composition of its meteorites.
According to the present theories, the object, called Egg Rock, could have hit the planet's surface as many as millions of years ago. ChemCam will provide the necessary data to carry out an analysis of the laser shots, which will further help the scientists conduct a comparison between the object's surface and its interior and core chemistry.
The object was discovered while the rover drove along Mount Sharp on a lower layer named the Murray formation. The main purpose of Curiosity's second extended mission, which started in October, is to analyze the way the environment and the consequent conditions of it have changed over time.