Curiosity finds massive metal meteorite on Mars as it moves into more dangerous, exciting territory


NASA’s Curiosity rover has encountered a massive iron meteorite on Mars. At roughly two meters (6.5 feet) wide, and who knows how much beneath the surface, the meteorite (dubbed “Lebanon”) might be the largest ever discovered on Mars. In other news, Curiosity recently celebrated its first Martian anniversary on the Red Planet (almost two Earth years), and is now about two thirds of the way to its primary target of Mount Sharp, which it should reach in early 2015. Perhaps most interestingly, Curiosity recently passed into a region of terrain that is much more likely to yield exciting geology data and dramatic photos of the Martian landscape.

The huge iron meteorite, called Lebanon, was first discovered and imaged by Curiosity back on Sol 640 (May 25). The image is a composite of photos from the rover’s Mastcam, and close-up macro photos captured by ChemCam. The six-week delay is probably due to the fact that it takes a long time to upload high-res photos from Mars to Earth — there’s only around 6Mbps of bandwidth between the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Earth, and Curiosity can only uplink to MRO for a short period every day (when it flies overhead). The second, smaller fragment in the foreground is called Lebanon B.

While iron meteorites are relatively rare on Earth, almost every meteorite discovered on Mars has been iron. No one quite knows why, but it’s probably down to iron meteorites being resistant to Martian erosion processes (wind, water, freeze/thaw, etc.) Without digging Lebanon up it’s hard to say just how big it is, but with a width of 6.5 feet, and presumably a sizable portion of it hidden beneath the surface, it’s probably pretty darn huge. According to NASA, the oddly shaped cavities on the surface of the meteorite are probably caused by erosion along crystalline boundaries — or alternatively that the meteorite is a rare example that started life near the core of an asteroid, and that the gaps once contained olivine crystals that have long eroded away.

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