Friday, August 03, 2012

Want a Piece of Mars? Pay Up!

The above image shows Mars meteorite EETA79001. Image Credit: NASA

You don't have to go to Mars, or wait for a sample retrieval mission, to get your own piece of the Red Planet. Scientists have confirmed that "Mars rocks are among us." And you can have your own, for the right price. Here is the deal...

Folks on Earth have found meteorites that formed on the planet Mars. These rocks were ejected from Mars by the impact of an asteroid or comet, and landed on the Earth. As of mid-2011, over 53,000 meteorites were found on Earth. And of this number, 99 have been identified as Martian. How do we know these rocks are from Mars? They have elemental and isotopic compositions that are similar to rocks and atmosphere gases analyzed by spacecraft on Mars.

By the early 1980s, it was obvious that the shergottite, nakhlite, and chassignite types of meteorites — known collectively as the SNC group — were significantly different from most other meteorite types. Among these differences were younger formation ages, a different oxygen isotopic composition (a different makeup of oxygen isotopes), the presence of aqueous weathering products, and some similarity in chemical composition to analyses of the Martian surface rocks in 1976 by the NASA Viking landers. Several workers suggested these characteristics implied the origin of SNC meteorites from a relatively large parent body, possibly Mars. Then in 1983, various trapped gases were reported in impact-formed glass of the EET79001 shergottite, gases which closely resembled those in the Martian atmosphere as analyzed by Viking. These trapped gases provided direct evidence for a Martian origin.

Now, how can you get a piece of Mars? Easy! Just pull up your Web browser of choice and search for "Mars meteorite or "Martian meteorite." Either of these will probably do the job. Select the "shopping" portion of your search results and voilĂ ! Pick your Mars rock and pay your money. But be advised that you will likely pay a lot to get a little. After all, this is a supply-and-demand market...

To learn more, visit NASA's Mars Meteorites, hosted by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), www.jpl.nasa.gov/snc .

To learn more about NASA's ongoing Mars Exploration Program, visit mars.jpl.nasa.gov .

To follow NASA's latest robotic visitor, the Mars Science Laboratory and Curiosity rover, visit www.nasa.gov/msl and mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl . You can follow the Curiosity mission on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/marscuriosity and on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/marscuriosity .

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