Mars has been extensively studied by astronomers and space agencies over the past few decades. There have been numerous flybys, orbiters, and rovers sent to Mars, providing a wealth of information about the planet’s geology, climate, atmosphere, and potential habitability.
Since the 1960s, there have been numerous missions to Mars by various space agencies, including NASA and the Soviet Union (now the Russian Space Agency). Some of the most notable missions include the Viking missions in the 1970s, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission, and the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) missions, which have all contributed to our understanding of Mars.
MSL Curiosity finds ‘Cacao’
According to ScienceAlert, the MSL Curiosity rover, exploring Mars’ Gale Crater, stumbled upon a rare metal meteorite named “Cacao” made mostly of nickel and iron. The meteorite, 30 cm wide, stands out visually with its dark grey and metallic appearance, smooth and rounded from passing through the Martian atmosphere. Regmaglypts on its surface are signs of heating due to friction from the planet’s thin atmosphere.
The meteorite’s iron-nickel composition dates back to the early Solar System and may have been from a shattered planetesimal. Curiosity’s primary mission is to study the sulfate-bearing unit on Mt. Sharp, but finding Cacao is a bonus as it sheds light on Mars’ history and adds to our knowledge of ancient meteorites, which were once humanity’s first source of iron.
In recent years, there have been increasing efforts to search for evidence of past or present life on Mars, with missions such as the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover, which recently landed on the planet in 2021 and is now exploring the Jezero Crater in search of evidence of ancient microbial life.