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Mars rocks on: Editorial


Carl Agee/AP Photo/University of New Mexico This image shows a rock from Mars that landed in the Sahara Desert. An examination of the Martian meteorite determined it is 2.1 billion years old and is water-rich.

Call it a cosmic irony — even as the rover Curiosity explores the surface of Mars, chunks of the Red Planet found here on Earth are yielding fascinating scientific evidence.

It might seem outlandish, but about 100 assorted chunks of Mars have been collected in past years after falling as meteorites. It’s thought these rocks were blasted from Mars and hurled into space when that planet collided with an asteroid of tremendous size, sometime in the distant past. Most such pieces likely burn up on entering the Earth’s atmosphere, but a few are large enough to provide a surviving sample.

The latest Martian rock to cause a stir is officially called NWA 7034. Dubbed “Black Beauty” and about the size of an orange, it was found in the Sahara and brought to researchers in 2011. According to an article first published online in the journal Science, it holds evidence of far more water than any other Mars rock.

That has sent a shiver of excitement through the people who study such things. Although obviously a meteorite, scientists established that the coal-black rock came from Mars after subjecting it to a battery of chemical tests and mineral analyses. But it was different from other known Martian rocks in its extraordinary water content.

It’s thought that this particular piece of Mars originated from closer to the surface than others reaching Earth, and from a time when the planet is generally thought to have been dry. That’s prompting speculation that Mars was wetter for a longer period than currently believed.

This is both fascinating and inspiring stuff for Earth-bound researchers who lack the budget necessary for a Mars rover. Indeed, pieces of the Red Planet could have landed anywhere. It goes to show, if you can’t travel to Mars, just wait. Mars might very well come to you. – Opinion