The Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, by now well past their planned mission end dates, continue to collect information about the red planet. Scientists on Earth, too, are gathering data on Mars: researchers from the U.S. Antarctic Search for Meteorites Program announced yesterday the discovery of a Martian meteorite recovered 750 kilometers from the South Pole.

Scientists scouring the Miller Range of the Transantarctic Mountains in Antarctica found the 715-gram chunk of black rock during the 2003-2004 summer season. The wrinkled rock, dubbed MIL 03346, was one of more than 1,000 samples recovered by the team. Analysis at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History identified MIL 03346's mineralogy and texture as Martian. It is the seventh recognized member of the nakhlite group of meteorites from the red planet, which traveled to Earth after an impact event on Mars some 11 million years ago.

Named after the first specimen that was recovered in Egypt in 1911, the nakhlites are thought to orginate from lava flows that crystalized on Mars around 1.3 billion years ago. Investigators from around the world can now apply to receive a piece of the meteorite for further study. By studying the sample up close and in detail, researchers can gain pieces to the puzzle of the Red Planet's history that complement the wealth of data being returned by distant spacecraft.