Talk about a speed bump. NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has discovered its first meteorite on the Red Planet, and it's no puny space rock.
The newfound Mars meteorite, which scientist have named "Lebanon," is nearly 7 feet (2 meters) wide and made of iron. Photos of the meteorite taken by Curiosity also revealed a smaller companion nearby, which is now dubbed "Lebanon B."
"That 'Lebanon' is huge, almost 7 feet," said NASA spokesman Guy Webster from the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. While NASA released a detailed photo of the Lebanon meteorites Tuesday (July 15), the Curiosity rover actually discovered the space rocks on May 25. [Mars Meteorites Found on Earth (Photos)]
Webster said Curiosity also found a third meteorite at the same time it spotted the Lebanon rocks. In a raw, unprocessed photo from Curiosity, the third meteorite — which is also about 7 feet wide — can be seen just beyond the closer Lebanon meteorites.
"Heavy Metal! I found an iron meteorite on Mars," Curiosity's handlers wrote on the mission's Twitter page.
Altogether, the three meteorites are the first space rocks on Mars discovered by the Curiosity rover since it landed on the Red Planet in August 2012, Webster added.
Curiosity snapped detailed photos of the main Lebanon meteorite using its high-resolution Chem-Cam and Remote Micro-Imager cameras. The images revealed strange angular cavities in the surface of the rock.
"One possible explanation is that they resulted from preferential erosion along crystalline boundaries within the metal of the rock," NASA officials wrote in a statement. "Another possibility is that these cavities once contained olivine crystals, which can be found in a rare type of stony-iron meteorites called pallasites, thought to have been formed near the core-mantle boundary within an asteroid."
Meteorites have been discovered by Spirit and Opportunity, two smaller NASA rovers that landed on Mars in 2004. Opportunity is still active today, though its twin Spirit gave up the ghost in 2011.
On Aug. 5, Curiosity will celebrate its second Earth-year anniversary on Mars. Since landing in 2012, the rover has found evidence that Mars could have been habitable for primitive life — a major mission goal —and has been making its way toward the huge Mount Sharp, which rises from the center of its Gale Crater landing site.
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