A fragment of the surface of Mars has made its way to a Scottish laboratory.
Scientists at the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC) have obtained a piece of a Martian meteorite that fell to Earth last year.
By examining the 0.2 gram fragment of the Tissint meteorite, they hope to have a clearer idea of when it left Mars and how long it spent in space.
They will use state-of-the-art "mass spectrometer" equipment to measure how much of the elements helium, neon and argon are in the fragment.
The measurements will help the research team understand how long the meteorite was exposed to cosmic radiation in space and how long ago it left Mars.
The meteorite, named after the area of Morocco where it landed, is one of just 61 Martian meteorites to have been found on Earth.
They were blasted from the face of Mars many thousands of years ago by several massive asteroid impacts and travelled through space before arriving on earth.
Tissint was acquired by the Natural History Museum, London, in February and small pieces of it are being allocated to universities across the UK.
The Martian meteorites which have been discovered on Earth each come from three different areas of the planet and are classified as nakhlites, shergottites and chassignites.
Previous chemical analysis has shown that all the nakhlites were ejected from Mars about ten million years ago.
However, the shergottites and chassignites have a range of space ages, indicating that Mars has been impacted several times.
University of Glasgow scientist Dr Fin Stuart, who will lead the analysis at the SUERC facility in East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire, said: "As meteorites travel through space, they are bombarded with high-energy cosmic radiation which our atmosphere shields us from here on Earth.
"The radiation explodes some atoms in the meteorite, creating 'daughter' atoms.
"The new atoms are known as cosmogenic isotopes. They are very rare on Earth and are one of the tell-tale fingerprints which show an object has spent time in space.
"We will use a high-precision mass spectrometer to measure the cosmogenic isotopes of the gases helium, neon and argon in Tissint.
"From these measurements we can determine how long the meteorite was exposed to cosmic radiation in space, and thus how long ago it left Mars.
"It requires measuring a few million atoms but we're hopeful that we'll be able to get a much clearer idea than we currently have of how long Tissint, and the shergottite meterorite group as a whole, spent in space before reaching Earth."