Curiosity rover finds metallic meteorite on Mars

The iron-nickel meteorite "Cacao," discovered on Mars by NASA's Curiosity rover. The Curiosity team posted this photo on Twitter on Feb. 2, 2023.
The iron-nickel meteorite "Cacao," discovered on Mars by NASA's Curiosity rover. The Curiosity team posted this photo on Twitter on Feb. 2, 2023. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA's Curiosity rover has found another meteorite on Mars.

The space rock is about 1 foot (0.3 meters) wide and consists primarily of iron and nickel, Curiosity team members announced via Twitter on Thursday (Feb. 2). And the meteorite has a name.

"We're calling it 'Cacao,'" the Curiosity team wrote in the Twitter post, which includes a photo of the rock.

Related: 15 stunning Mars photos by NASA's Curiosity rover

The car-sized Curiosity landed inside Mars' 96-mile-wide (154 kilometers) Gale Crater in August 2012, on a quest to determine if the area could have supported Earth-like life long ago.

The robot's work over the past decade has answered that question in the affirmative, showing that Gale hosted a potentially habitable lake-and-stream system in the ancient past. What's more, this watershed likely persisted for millions of years at a stretch, possibly allowing time for the rise of Martian microbes. 

Curiosity is not a life-hunting mission, so it's not looking for signs of these microbes, if they ever existed. But Curiosity's cousin Perseverance, which landed inside a different Mars crater in February 2021, is conducting a life search, and also collecting dozens of samples for future return to Earth.

Since September 2014, Curiosity has been climbing the flanks of Mount Sharp, a huge massif that rises about 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) into the sky from Gale's center. 

The rover recently notched a big milestone on this trek, reaching sulfate-rich deposits that formed in relatively dry conditions. Curiosity's observations of these rocks could help scientists better understand when and how Gale Crater, and the Red Planet at large, transitioned from a relatively warm and wet place to the frigid desert it is today, mission team members have said.

Curiosity has driven 18.31 miles (29.47 km) on Mars to date, according to its mission page. The rover has stumbled across several other meteorites during this epic off-planet journey, as the rover team noted in several other photo-featuring tweets on Thursday.

"Here's another meteorite I found in 2016. It's called 'Egg Rock,' aka the golf ball," one Thursday Twitter post reads.

"And while my team calls this 7-foot-long meteorite 'Lebanon,' I call it THE BEAST," another Thursday tweet states.

Curiosity discovered Lebanon, or The Beast, in May 2014, though NASA didn't publicize photos of the big rock until July of that year. The Beast and two nearby stones were the first meteorites that Curiosity found on the Red Planet.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.  

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.