LOS ANGELES (AP) — Scientists are abuzz about a rock from Mars that landed in the Sahara desert: A yearlong analysis revealed it's quite different from other Martian meteorites.
Not only is it older than most, it also contains more water. The baseball-size meteorite, estimated to be 2 billion years old, is strikingly similar to the volcanic rocks examined by the NASA rovers Spirit and Opportunity on the Martian surface.
"Here we have a piece of Mars that I can hold in my hands. That's really exciting," said Carl Agee, director of the Institute of Meteoritics and curator at the University of New Mexico who led the study published online Thursday in the journal Science.
Most space rocks that fall to Earth as meteorites come from the asteroid belt, but a number can be traced to the moon and Mars.
Scientists believe an asteroid or some other large object struck Mars, dislodging rocks and sending them into space. Occasionally, some plummet through Earth's atmosphere.
Short of sending a spacecraft or astronaut to the red planet to haul back rocks, Martian meteorites are the next best thing for scientists seeking to better understand how Earth's neighbor transformed from a tropical environment to a frigid desert.
About 65 Martian rocks have been recovered on Earth, mostly in Antarctica or the Sahara. The oldest dates back 4.5 billion years to a time when Mars was warmer and wetter. About half a dozen Martian meteorites are 1.3 billion years old and the rest are 600 million years or younger.
The latest meteorite, known as NWA 7034 and nicknamed "Black Beauty," was donated to the University of New Mexico by an American who bought it from a Moroccan meteorite dealer last year.
Researchers performed a battery of tests on the meteorite and based on its chemical signature confirmed that it was blasted to Earth from Mars. At 2.1 billion years old, it's the second-oldest known Martian meteorite.
There's also evidence that it was altered by water. Though the amount released from the meteorite during testing at high temperatures was small — 6,000 parts per million — it was still much more than other Martian meteorites.
The findings add further evidence that there were pockets of water near the surface during a time when the planet was mostly dry and dusty.
More tests are under way to determine how long the rock floated in space and how long it had been sitting in the Sahara.
University of Alberta meteorite expert Chris Herd said the find was welcome since most Martian rocks that rain on Earth tend to be younger. And the latest find does not appear to be too contaminated, he said.
"It's fairly fresh. It hasn't been subjected to a whole lot of weathering," said Herd, who had no role in the research.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Farmington police say an officer shot and killed a man while responding to a fight between a father and his adult son.
The treasurer of the Milford Rotary Club has been arrested on larceny charges on accusations he embezzled more than $200,000 from the Milford Rotary and two other groups.
The state Democratic Party is returning a $10,000 contribution from the chief executive of Comcast-Spectacor and owner of the Philadelphia Flyers, saying it has learned he could be a state contractor.
West Haven officials say state plans to eliminate Exit 44 on Interstate 95 south will make it harder for the city to attract business.
Residents make sure to gas up your vehicles and buy any basic necessities today, as some may see nearly a foot of snow in this weekend's storm.
For residents looking for tips on how to prepare and stay safe during a weather-related emergency, the state has a Guide to Emergency Preparedness.
A Stamford man convicted of attempted murder after he unknowingly hired an undercover police officer as a hit man to kill his wife has been sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Every week we take a moment to look back at the last week using your pictures and video. This past week, we got a lot of pictures of the season's first 'measurable' snowfall.
While many are looking ahead to the weekend snow storm, this morning we're waking up to the coldest air of the season.
This week's Pet of the Week is a cat named Shirley.