NASA Names Tumbling Stone on Mars the Rolling Stones Rock

And Iron Man—Robert Downey Jr—made the announcement.

For decades, the music of the Rolling Stones has had a global reach here on Earth. It made history, and many of us grew up listening to the Rolling Stones. Now, the influence of the British band extends to Mars, as the team behind the InSight lander has named a Martian rock Rolling Stones Rock.

Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, and Ronnie Wood – members of the iconic rock group – expressed their charm with the news and commented the historic moment during a presentation in Pasadena:  “What a wonderful way to celebrate the ‘Stones No Filter’ tour arriving in Pasadena. This is definitely a milestone in our long and eventful history. A huge thank you to everyone at NASA for making it happen.”

Although only a little bigger than a golf ball, the rock on the surface of Mars seems to have rolled a meter on November 26, 2018, directed by InSight’s retro-rocket when the spacecraft touched down on the Martian surface to begin its study of the deep interior of the planet Red.

In the images taken by InSight the next day, several grooves can be seen on the orange-red ground behind Rolling Stones Rock.

It is as far as NASA has seen a rock roll when a spacecraft lands on another planet. That itself is cosmic history.

“The name is going perfect,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division in Washington.

“In this way, NASA can share its work with different audiences. When we learned that the Stones were going to give a concert in Pasadena, paying tribute with something like that seemed like a fun way to reach fans around the world. The one in charge of making the official announcement was nothing more and nothing less than the actor Robert Downey Jr., who yesterday took the stage of the Rose Bowl stadium before the British band.

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In the center, the rock that was named after the Rolling Stones. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
In the center, the rock that was named after the Rolling Stones. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

“Cross-pollinating science and a legendary rock band is always a good thing…” the man behind Iron Man said behind the scenes.

The InSight mission is led by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which curiously, can be reached by the same road that leads to the Rose Bowl. Coincidence? I think not.

Matt Golombek, a geologist at the JPL, who has helped NASA land its historic missions on Mars since 1997, is a “rock star” in his own right.

He and his colleagues count rocks and evaluate the safety of potential landing sites.

“I’ve seen a lot of Martian rocks in my career. This is probably not going to be in many scientific articles, but it is definitely one of the coolest,” revealed Golombek.

The official scientific names for places and objects in our solar system – including asteroids, comets, and locations on planets – can only be designated by the International Astronomical Union.

However, scientists working with Martian rovers have already informally baptized several rocks and geological features on our planetary neighbor.

And this makes things easier when discussing different objects and referring to them in their studies and reports.

So, while the Rolling Stones Rock is informal, it will certainly appear that way on developing maps of the red planet.