Meteorite hunters, scouring the Antarctic continent for fragments of other worlds, have found a new piece of Mars in amongst the ice, snow and penguins. As is traditional in such cases, it has been given a name that reflects its alien origins and the vast distance it travelled through space: MIL 03346.
The 715.2-gram rock was bagged and tagged on December 15th 2003. It was found during a search for rare meteorites, funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation with the specific hope of finding new Martian samples.
The rock has been confirmed as the seventh "nakhlite" meteorite, a group of Martian rocks named for Nakhla, Egypt, where the first known specimen fell in 1911. Researchers at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of History said that the mineralogy, texture and the oxidized nature of the rock are "unmistakably Martian", according to a press statement on the NASA website.
Scientists think that nakhlites are fragments of ancient Martian lava flows that solidified around 1.3bn years ago, making them some of the older known pieces of the red planet to have made it to Earth. The theory is that nakhlites are ejecta from a huge impact on Mars 11 million years ago.
As it can be studied in detail, MIL 03346 will provide scientists with a point of reference for data sent back from the Mars rovers and Martian satellites. In line with the protocols of the U.S. Antarctic meteorite program, NASA invites scientists from around the world to request samples of the new specimen for their own detailed research. ®