A team of NASA scientists on Tuesday confirmed what many have already suspected: A number of meteorite chunks fell from Mars over Morocco last summer.
In a statement released early Tuesday, NASA scientists confirmed the invasion of martian rocks to the North-African country. A special committee of meteorite experts, which includes some NASA scientists, confirmed that tests over the past month show 15 pounds of meteorite recently collected in Morocco originated on Mars. The biggest rock weighs over 2 pounds, said NASA officials.
The finding is unusually rare. The last time a Martian meteorite fell and was found fresh was in 1962, and all Martian rocks on Earth add up to less than 240 pounds, said U.S. space administration officials.
The new samples are already fetching high prices as they were quickly picked up by dealers. Even before the official certification, scientists at NASA, museums and universities scrambled to buy or trade these meteorites, noting that few remain available for sale.
The finding is especially rare in the sense that martian rocks are among the rarest elements found on Earth. Meteorites from Mars are more than 1 million times rarer than gold, and this is only the fifth time experts have chemically confirmed fresh Martian rocks fell to Earth.
The announcement comes as the U.S. space administration has sought to increase its understanding of the red planet. NASA launched a mission to Mars in late 2011, the latest such expedition to take place on Earth’s neighboring planet.
The rover will travel to Mars, where it will land in Gale crater, which is thought to be about three and a half billion years old and more than 95 miles in diameter. The mission to Mars will take over eight months, NASA officials say, and the rover is expected to arrive on the planet on August 6, 2012. The Mars rover is reportedly a major upgrade from a pair of rovers launched to the planet in 2004. A number of scientists working on the project have said it represents a “dream machine,” due, in part, to the number of instruments contained within the confines of the rover.
The team, which already have a pair of rovers on the planet, also announced earlier this month that they have settled on a location for the Mars rover Opportunity, saying it will ride out the martian winter near the edge of a crater.
A number of recent discoveries on the red planet have confirmed that Mars likely played host to larges rivers and streams. A rock discovered and examined by Opportunity in 2011 found evidence of water on Mars, leading NASA scientists to posit that the planet was likely a much wetter environment than the barren, red land seen today.
Astronomers think that millions of years ago something big smashed into Mars that sent fragments hurtling through the solar system. Occasionally, some fall on Earth.