Usually, when a meteorite crash lands somewhere, it never finds its way back home. However, that’s all about to change with the news that NASA is sending a 700,000-year-old piece of Martian rock back to its home planet.
Crashing Down To Earth
Between 600,000 and 700,000 years ago, the meteorite Sayh al Uhaymir 008 – or SaU 008 – left Mars and crash-landed on Earth. It wasn’t actually discovered on this planet until 1999, where it was located in Oman in Western Asia. After the meteorite was retrieved, it found a home in London’s Natural History Museum, where it’s remained for the last two decades. However, now NASA has decided that this Martian rock is an essential ingredient for their latest mission.
Swapping One Rock For Another
The meteorite is being flown back to the Red Planet, so it can be used to calibrate the Mars rover, Perseverance. NASA wants to improve one of the vehicle’s instruments so it can better identify the compositions of rock and regolith. The hope is that it will collect samples to then bring back to Earth, essentially swapping one piece of Martian rock for another. Whether it will be successful or not is hard to predict right now, given that the rover won’t actually land in the desired spot on Mars until February 2021.
Perfect For The Job
The reason this meteorite was chosen for the mission was that it has the right material for the job. It’s formed mostly of basalt, something that is apparently incredibly common on the Red Planet. What’s more, it’s a very tough piece of rock, so there’s a good chance it will survive the trip back to its home.
We’ve got everything crossed that this mission is a success, especially as it could spell great things for the future. The possibility of humans eventually inhabiting Mars seems to become more real with every day.
In April 2020, astronomers have seen a confirmed magnetar flare that originated in another galaxy. Scientists have long speculated that these stellar remnants were the cause of a number of high-energy explosions in the surrounding universe, but this burst was the first one that provided concrete proof of that theory.
What Is a Magnetar
Magnetars are neutron stars or remnants of dead stars that are surrounded by very intense magnetic fields. The decay of that field is what fuels the bursts of high-energy electromagnetic radiation. Most commonly, the emissions include gamma rays and X-rays. When astronomers first detected GRBs (short gamma-ray bursts), and FRBs or fast radio bursts in space, they suspected that magnetars might have been their cause. The most recent flares from April 2020 have proven that.
The Flare Was Spotted by Space Satellites
The burst that was caught in April last year was reported on by astronomers at the American Astronomical Society’s virtual meeting held in January. The blast of gamma rays and X-rays in question was picked up by five space satellites, including the Mars Odyssey orbiter and the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. Enough information was received to track down the source of the flare to the Sculptor galaxy which is 11.4 million lightyears away.
What the Collected Data Looked Like
GRBs are commonly attributed to colliding neutron stars or different destructive cosmic events. However, this burst didn’t look quite like a regular short GRB. Namely, it reached peak brightness within 2 milliseconds, tailed off for 50 milliseconds, and was over within 140 milliseconds. Satellites picked up fluctuations in the light that aren’t typical for a short GRB, explains astrophysicist Oliver Roberts from the Universities Space Research Association in Huntsville.
The Fermi telescope caught a gamma burst stronger than a gigaelectronvolt four minutes after the initial blast, which is also rather strange, and known sources don’t do that. This event is speculated to have been the result of a starquake and it puts several other such events into perspective for astronomers.