Rock On! Curiosity Spots a Heavy Metal Meteorite

Talk about heavy metal! This shiny, lumpy rock spotted by NASA’s Curiosity rover is likely made mostly of iron — and came from outer space! It’s an iron meteorite, similar to ones found in years past by Curiosity’s forerunners Spirit and Opportunity, but is considerably larger than any of the ones the MER rovers came across… in fact, at 2 meters (6.5 feet) wide this may very well be the biggest meteorite ever discovered on Mars!

Click the image for a supermetallicious high-resolution version from JPL’s Planetary Photojournal.

Original raw Mastcam (right) image of Lebanon and Lebanon B from Sol 640 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
Original raw Mastcam (right) image of Lebanon and Lebanon B from Sol 640 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

The picture above was made by combining high-resolution circular images (outlined in white) acquired with the Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) of Curiosity’s ChemCam instrument with color and context from the rover’s Mastcam. The images were taken on mission Sol 640 (May 25, 2014) and have been adjusted to simulate more Earth-like illumination.

Dubbed “Lebanon,” the large meteorite has a smaller fragment lying alongside it, named “Lebanon B.”

While iron meteorites are fairly common on Earth, on Mars they are by far the most common types of meteorites that have been discovered — if just for the sheer fact that they are highly resistant to erosion.*

Find more news and images from the MSL mission on the JPL site here.


Source: NASA

*Note: that isn’t to say iron meteorites can’t be eroded; on the contrary, much of their signature surface sheen and pitted texture comes from various erosion processes. See a related study from J. W. Ashley et al. here.

9 Replies to “Rock On! Curiosity Spots a Heavy Metal Meteorite”

  1. Eeeyep, we should send a lander with a balloon borne magnetometer, either on a tether or remotely controlled. Use the lander/rover as a surface relay station? Fly around and take a survey on the number of NiFe meteorites laying around. Say that we sample a 10 sq KM region and find enough NiFe meteorites to make it worthwhile to build a smelter. Use the metal for structural supports? or ?

    1. Mars has no useful atmosphere and a smelter weighs millions of tons. It is much easier for you to build an iron smelter by yourself in the forest/desert whereever you live, than having rover on Mars do the same thing. It’s much cheaper to build the rockets on Earth to ship prefabs to Mars, than trying to build anything there. Mars has no infrastructure, no economy.

      Building small iron smelters on Mars would be a disaster at the level of the Chinese “cultural revolution” when farmers were ordered to do that in local small scale. All iron produced was useless because of quality problems. Constructions on Mars need the best steel in the world. You cannot make that at home, you need a global Earthly economy to begin with.

  2. Balloons on Mars are difficult because of the thin atmosphere and big diurnal temperature swings. A folding rocket-plane has been studied, but did not get funding for full development. Since it would be flying at near Mach 1 just to avoid stalling, it would not be able to land in one piece.

  3. I can’t wait until the NASA ARM mission results in exactly the same discovery of the ten thousandth known meteoroid of this size class in the inner solar system, twenty years and half a dozen NASA budgets from now. Science will remain none the wiser by visiting yet another of these common and well known objects which fill our museums and litter the cameras of our Lunar and Mars expeditions.

  4. If you look below the main and secondary meteorites in the picture (just to the right of middle at the bottom of the picture) there is a small rock sticking up out of the surface angled to the left…….when you zoom in on that rock there is a mans face looking right back at you…..spooky!

  5. Should not a 2-meter NiFe meteor impacting Mars leave a 50- to 100-meter crater? Is there any evidence of a crater here? Or would it have completely eroded?

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