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Mars meteorite
Photograph: NASA/JPL-CALTECH

NASA rover will return a 1,000-year-old piece of Mars back to its home planet this week

The rock landed on planet Earth and has been studied ever since.

Anna Rahmanan
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Anna Rahmanan
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You might remember this: back in 1999, scientists discovered a rock in the deserts of Oman that, according to experts, landed on planet Earth after being blasted off Mars by a comet or an asteroid. After years spent under the tutelage of scientists who used it to study Mars from afar, the meteorite will return to its home planet later this week on board of NASA's Perseverance Rover. 

Scheduled to blast off to space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida this Thursday at 7:30am EST (you can watch the historical event right here), Perseverance will join the Mars Curiosity rover—which has been frolicking around the planet since 2011—to help experts discover all there is to know about the Red Planet. The rover is projected to land on February 18, 2021.

The meteorite will play an important role in the mission, helping Perseverance constantly recalibrate itself. Specifically speaking, the rover's Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals tool (SHERLOC) will use data obtained from the rock as a benchmark when discovering something new and interesting. 

The piece of rock has come a really long way. According to Caroline Smith, the head of Earth sciences collections at London's Natural History Museum, where the meteorite was housed until now, the rubble "formed about 450 million years ago, got blasted off Mars by an asteroid or comet roughly 600,000-700,000 years ago and then landed on Earth. We don't know precisely when but perhaps 1,000 years ago. And now it's going back to Mars."

Of course, the mission, years in the making, was already of utmost importance. And yet, the meteorite has imbued the project with a renewed sense of purpose. Who knows what Perseverance and Curiosity might find with the help of the meteorite?

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