Baseball-size Martian rock recovered in the Sahara

Scientists are abuzz about a rock from Mars that landed in the Sahara desert: A yearlong analysis revealed it's quite different from other Martian meteorites.
Associated Press
Jan 3, 2013


Not only is it older than most, it also contains more water. The baseball-size meteorite, estimated to be 2 billion years old, is strikingly similar to the volcanic rocks examined by the NASA rovers Spirit and Opportunity on the Martian surface.

"Here we have a piece of Mars that I can hold in my hands. That's really exciting," said Carl Agee, director of the Institute of Meteoritics and curator at the University of New Mexico who led the study published online Thursday in the journal Science.

Most space rocks that fall to Earth as meteorites come from the asteroid belt, but a number can be traced to the moon and Mars.

Scientists believe an asteroid or some other large object struck Mars, dislodging rocks and sending them into space. Occasionally, some plummet through Earth's atmosphere.

Short of sending a spacecraft or astronaut to the red planet to haul back rocks, Martian meteorites are the next best thing for scientists seeking to better understand how Earth's neighbor transformed from a tropical environment to a frigid desert.

About 65 Martian rocks have been recovered on Earth, mostly in Antarctica or the Sahara. The oldest dates back 4.5 billion years to a time when Mars was warmer and wetter. About half a dozen Martian meteorites are 1.3 billion years old and the rest are 600 million years or younger.

The latest meteorite, known as NWA 7034 and nicknamed "Black Beauty," was donated to the University of New Mexico by an American who bought it from a Moroccan meteorite dealer last year.

Researchers performed a battery of tests on the meteorite and based on its chemical signature confirmed that it was blasted to Earth from Mars. At 2.1 billion years old, it's the second-oldest known Martian meteorite.

There's also evidence that it was altered by water. Though the amount released from the meteorite during testing at high temperatures was small — 6,000 parts per million — it was still much more than other Martian meteorites.

The findings add further evidence that there were pockets of water near the surface during a time when the planet was mostly dry and dusty.

More tests are under way to determine how long the rock floated in space and how long it had been sitting in the Sahara.

University of Alberta meteorite expert Chris Herd said the find was welcome since most Martian rocks that rain on Earth tend to be younger. And the latest find does not appear to be too contaminated, he said.

"It's fairly fresh. It hasn't been subjected to a whole lot of weathering," said Herd, who had no role in the research.



The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Finds like this are always interesting. What can we learn from each one? What exists around and beyond us? One scientific theory regarding the origin of life on earth is that a meteorite carried it in from another planet. With the existence of life forms like the "water bear" which can survive the hard vacuum of space, and the cold and radiation it brings, it can be a fun thought to entertain.

Without even delving into the mysteries of life, meteorites do make good collectibles for art once the academics are over. In fact, one of our dice distributors buys meteorites and will make dice sets out of them for a very unique collectible (to that extent they also use dinosaur fossils, gemstones, metals, and other unique materials)!

What will the next one bring? We can only wait and see.


"Water bear"? That is a new term to me. Thank you for the heads up.

I am quite amazed that this water bear could survive absolute zero and the vacuum of outer space.

So much to learn and many things that are yet to be discovered.


Perhaps the origins of life here began on Mars or maybe it goes far beyond that even . Perhaps life hitches rides on celestial bodies and travels from one point to another as if on a cosmic billiards table .


If thats the cases then we must also accept the fact the life very well may be a celestial communicable disease... not to sound all "save the earth type" but we're doing a pretty good job at infecting this planet and tearing it apart much like the flue to us.... just a thought from the dimmer side of thing I guess. Nature is the body and people are the growing cancer killing the shebang.


I guess we ( humans ) can be considered an invasive species ,but what separates us from other forms of life is that we should know better yet we continue in ruining our environment . Extinction is a natural process of the world and perhaps the universe . A way of weeding out certain elements of life and making way for new thus continually renewing and diversifying the world . I guess that if it is thrown out of balance enough the whole " shebang " could come tumbling down for this planet as a whole . Like bursting our collective bubble , so to speak . Maybe those tree-huggers are onto something ; )))


@The Hero Zone...I want to congratulate you on all you do for the kids and wish you success on this coming year.

You seem to be really UP on these meteors. I have a question? How do they know for sure that these come from Mars? Do they have actual specimens or is it from the info sent back by the Rover already up there? I am just curious as to how they know these rocks really are from Mars and not another planet?

@ Bluto....many people have speculated what you are saying to be fact. Mars may very well have been home to life before ours, or some form of life similar to what we have and died off for some reason or another. It would be interesting to know one way or another. I cannot help but wonder if that is why NASA is so anxious to send people there to explore that planet?

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Sorry that I seemed to have missed your question until now. As for how to identify it, and as far as I know, it is an educated guess based on the composition of the meteorite to what we believe Mars is made from. We may have samples, but I do know that tests are conducted that can actually calculate elemental composition based on how the planet reflects light, x-rays, infrared, etc. So if we know iron looks (let's say) purple with a special tool, and then using that tool to look at Mars and it too is purple, we can reasonably presume that this rock is from that planet from the color/pattern it shines back. Hope that helps some!


Another reason they could be wanting to get there is inter planetary shipping... we're going to be running low on drinkable water here in the up coming decades unless we do some population controlling.... that and if the surface is red due to iron content, that means giant iron deposits that could be shipped back and made into steel.... and then there's the all mighty oil... if there was once plant life and an aquatic setting in mars's past, that means there is a possibility of oil...

If the human race keeps growing we need to find more resources. Mars is just the closest solid planet that we wouldn't burn up on upon landing...