Space Case: NASA-JPL Names a Rock on Mars After the Rolling Stones

A small rock was displaced when NASA’s InSight spacecraft landed on Mars. Now, it’s being called Rolling Stones Rock.

Moments before the age-old Rolling Stones began performing at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl Stadium on Thursday, actor Robert Downey Jr. inexplicably took to the stage and announced that the band was now the namesake of a rock on Mars.

When NASA’s InSight lander touched down on Mars back in November, its thrusters evidently displaced a rock, which subsequently rolled about three feet within view of the spacecraft’s onboard cameras. NASA had never seen a rock travel that far when landing on another planet. The event was confirmed after InSight took pictures the next day, and that “several divots in the orange-red soil can be seen trailing Rolling Stones Rock,” according to a press release.

While introducing the Rolling Stones onstage, Downey, Jr. briefly mentioned “two epic launches” that occurred in 1964: the release of the first Rolling Stones album, and the launch of the first flyby satellite to Mars, Mariner 4. He then praised NASA for its most recent mission to Mars, citing the movement of the rock and proclaiming that scientists at NASA’s Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “in a fit of fandom and clever association,” decided to call it Rolling Stones Rock.

Downey continued to explain that the band members were not opposed to the idea of the Martian rock being named after them, but that they essentially wanted the crowd’s approval. The audience collectively obliged with resounding cheers and now this small Mars-based rock, which is apparently no bigger than a golf ball, is named after the band—just like that.

“The name Rolling Stones Rock is a perfect fit,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division in Washington, said in the release. “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.”

Only the International Astronomical Union can designate scientific names for objects in the solar system, which means that the name Rolling Stones Rock remains unofficial and informal, though it will still have that designation on working maps of Mars.

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