Opportunity Rover was the second of two rovers of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Mission. Its many objectives included analysis of the rocks and soils of Mars to test for their chemical content.
Launched on July 7, 2003 and originally intended to perform tasks for 90 sols (a sol, or solar day on Mars, is 40 minutes longer than an Earth day) is has now continued to function for 2191 days, thanks to careful use of its solar panels.
The use of probes for other heavenly bodies is very important to collectors of meteorites such as Darryl Pitt (whose collection we covered in a recent newsletter). A small minority of the meteorites which reach Earth have been chipped off other planets by other meteorites, but identifying them is not necessarily easy.
In the case of lunar meteorites, it may be possible to compare their chemistry to moon rocks which have been brought back to Earth by Apollo moonwalkers.
Mars, however, is in the unique position of being the only planet from which meteorites can be proved to have come (a few examples have even contained tiny pockets of gas with the same composition as the Martian atmosphere), using evidence from probes alone.
Martian meteorites can be extremely valuable by weight. A 5.5g Basaltic Shergottite at Bonhams in December and a 2.61g Chassingnite at Heritage last week each sold for more than $1,000 per gram: $6,100 and $3,884 respectively.
Claims that meteorites have come from other planets, such as one thought to come from Mercury at Heritage's auction, are educated guesses.
Whilst there is a quiet campaign by some, notably Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, to focus space exploration efforts on mankind reaching Mars, it seems unlikely that rocks from the planet are going to be returned by astronauts for several decades, so the low supply of Mars rock may be expected to keep prices high.
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Images: Heritage Auctions