The Rolling Stones now have a rock named after them on Mars. The team behind NASA’s InSight lander has given the rock, which is a little larger than a golf ball, the name Rolling Stones Rock.
The announcement was made by actor Robert Downey Jr at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena before the band’s show there on Thursday night (22). “Cross-pollinating science and a legendary rock band is always a good thing,” he observed backstage.
Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood said in a statement that they were delighted with the honour. “What a wonderful way to celebrate the Stones No Filter tour arriving in Pasadena,” they said in a statement. “This is definitely a milestone in our long and eventful history. A huge thank you to everyone at NASA for making it happen.”
The honour has special relevance to Pasadena because the InSight mission is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, situated close to the city’s Rose Bowl. “I’ve seen a lot of Mars rocks over my career,” said JPL geologist Matt Golombek. “This one probably won’t be in a lot of scientific papers, but it’s definitely one of the coolest…” Golombek has helped NASA to land all of its Mars missions since 1997; he and fellow scientists count rocks and assess the safety of potential landing sites on the planet.
The rock appeared to have rolled about three feet on 26 November last year, according to images taken by InSight the next day. It was propelled by the lander’s thrusters as the spacecraft touched down on Mars to study the deep interior of the Red Planet. In the images, a number of divots in the orange-red soil can be seen trailing Rolling Stones Rock. NASA has never seen a rock roll such a distance while landing a craft on another planet.
“The name Rolling Stones Rock is a perfect fit,” says Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division in Washington. “Part of NASA’s charter is to share our work with different audiences. When we found out the Stones would be in Pasadena, honoring them seemed like a fun way to reach fans all over the world.”
The name Rolling Stones Rock is informal, but it will appear on working maps of the Red Planet. Official scientific names for places and objects throughout the solar system such as asteroids, comets and locations on planets, can only be designated by the International Astronomical Union. But scientists who work with NASA’s Mars rovers have bestowed many unofficial nicknames to rocks and other geological features, since this makes it easier for them to discuss different objects and make reference to them in science papers.