x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Mission to Morocco

Heavenly curiosities carry a high price-tag, and when it comes to searching for life on Mars, sometimes it's more cost-effective to stay right here on Earth.

When Nasa launched its Mars Curiosity rover on November 26, 2011, the hope of discovering extraterrestrial life was once again revived. When it touched down nearly nine months later, anyone who has ever gazed into the night sky, wondering what is out there, cheered the Curiosity mission.

But earthly curiosities carry a high price-tag. The current rover mission cost a staggering $2.5 billion (Dh9.2 billion) to build and launch. Add to that roughly $800 million for two earlier rovers - Spirit and Opportunity - and some fiscally conservative types might wonder whether this is money well spent. It is - but it's worth pursuing less lofty projects as well.

The journal Science reports this week that a sample of rock sold by a Moroccan dealer has the highest concentrations of water ever found in a Martian meteorite. Known as Northwest Africa (NWA) 7034, it is 2 billion years old and has worked its arduous way to Earth over the aeons.

Which raises an important question: might Nasa have saved some cash by doing its shopping in Morocco? Perhaps. But Moroccan salesman are a savvy bunch. No doubt this ancient chunk of Mars came with its own steep price tag. How much, no one is saying.