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New Mexico Science

Science, climate, weather and water from a New Mexico perspective

UNM scientists discover meteorite from Mars

Mars rock
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A team of University of New Mexico scientists has discovered a meteorite from Mars, rich in water, that could open a new window for scientists on Earth’s most interesting neighbor.

“This is really a once-in-a-lifetime meteorite,” said Carl Agee yesterday afternoon as he showed Journal photographer Marla Brose and me the rock in his office at UNM’s Institute of Meteoritics.

The rock, catalogued by scientists as “Northwest Africa 7034,” was an unexceptional mystery rock found in the desert of Morocco two years ago. It made its way to Albuquerque via an Indiana meteorite collector looking for help figuring out what it was. It was only when Agee and his colleagues vaporized a small sample in a UNM lab for analysis that they discovered that, not only was it from Mars, but it was a special rock indeed.

Brose and I visited the lab where the analysis was done and, full disclosure, Agee let me hold the rock. (This was a serious life list experience. I have a very cool job.)

Agee and a group of colleagues are publishing their findings tomorrow on line with Science magazine. The rock formed in a Martian volcanic eruption 2.1 billion years ago, according to their analysis. At some point after that, it was blasted off the surface of mars when a giant meteorite hit that planet, kicking the humble rock into interplanetary space.

I toyed with whether to use the word “discover” to describe what they did, concluding that, while the Moroccans and Agee’s Indiana colleague played a role in moving this along, it was really Agee and his colleagues who made the discovery that this was Martian. Up to that point, it was a rather ho-hum space rock.

We’ll have details, and more of Marla’s pictures, in tomorrow’s newspaper.

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