NASA’s Mars Rover Opportunity is investigating a metallic meteorite the size of a large watermelon that is providing researchers more details about the Red Planet’s environmental history.
The rock, dubbed “Block Island,” is larger than any other known meteorite on Mars. Scientists calculate it is too massive to have hit the ground without disintegrating unless Mars had a much thicker atmosphere than it has now when the rock fell. An atmosphere slows the descent of meteorites. Additional studies also may provide clues about how weathering has affected the rock since it fell.
Two weeks ago, Opportunity had driven approximately 180 meters (600 feet) past the rock in a Mars region called Meridiani Planum. An image the rover had taken a few days earlier and stored was then transmitted back to Earth. The image showed the rock is approximately 60 centimeters (2 feet) in length, half that in height, and has a bluish tint that distinguishes it from other rocks in the area. The rover team decided to have Opportunity backtrack for a closer look, eventually touching Block Island with its robotic arm.
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