One of the robotic rovers running about on Mars has discovered the biggest meteorite ever found on the planet’s surface. NASA’s Opportunity spotted the strange boulder lying in the sand last month.
It is about 60cm (2ft) long and 30 cm (1ft) wide and stood out against the much smaller stones littering the martian desert in a region called Meridani Planum.
NASA boffins got Opportunity to probe the boulder, which they dubbed Block Island, with its alpha particle X-ray spectrometer. Now they confirmed that it is made of iron-nickel and fell from the sky. It could have been lying on Mars for millions of years.
Shiny metal surfaces in the meteorite indicate that the area has been dry ever since it fell. Opportunity found a smaller meteorite near its lander’s heat shield in 2005.
Disney-Pixar, makers of hit film WALL-E, based their own lovable, rubbish-clearing robot on Opportunity and its twin rover Spirit which is on the other side of Mars.
Spirit, which already has one wonky wheel, is presently trapped in sand up to its hubcaps in Gusev Crater. Scientists have been running tests with an identical robot back at mission control in California to decide how best to free it.
However, the two craft, which landed on Mars in January 2003 have already achieved an astonishing amount because their initial mission was scheduled to last just 90 days.
They have “phoned home” more than a quarter of a million photos and driven around 15 miles on the martian surface.
Interestingly, meteorites from Mars have been found on Earth including a controversial example which some believe contains martian microbes.
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