A Piece of Mars that Ended Up on Earth Will Return to Its Home Planet Thanks to NASA Rover

"This little rock's got quite a life story..."

slice of meteorite SAU 008
Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A small piece of Mars will return to its home planet when NASA launches its Perseverance Rover this week.

The rover is due to jet off to Mars this week and when it does, it will carry a small piece of meteorite from its destination planet which, until recently, was housed at London's Natural History Museum.

"This little rock's got quite a life story," Caroline Smith, head of Earth sciences collections at the Natural History Museum and a member of the science team working on the launch, told The BBC. “It formed about 450 million years ago, got blasted off Mars by an asteroid or comet roughly 600,000-700,000 years ago, and then landed on Earth; we don't know precisely when but perhaps 1,000 years ago. And now it's going back to Mars.”

The rock was discovered in the deserts of Oman in 1999 and has since been heavily studied to learn more about the surface of Mars. Because so much is known about the properties of the rock, the Perseverance Rover will use it to recalibrate itself while exploring Mars.

While traversing Mars, the rover’s SHERLOC tool (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals) will investigate the surface of the planet, searching for hints if life was ever there. If SHERLOC discovers something, it will scan the rock, using its known data as a benchmark to recalibrate and affirm the discovery.

This launch is part of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, which is “not only seeking signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past but also searching for signs of past microbial life itself” by collecting samples of rock and soil.

The rover is scheduled to take off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 30 at 7:50 a.m. EDT. It is projected to land on Mars on February 18, 2021. You can watch the launch live online.

Perseverance will join the Mars Curiosity rover, which has been taking pictures of the Red Planet since 2011.

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