A Martian meteorite containing 10 times more water than average could unlock clues to the Red Planet’s evolution from a warm, wet past to its current cold and dry state, scientists said on Thursday.
The new meteorite, designated NWA (Northwest Africa) 7034 and nicknamed ‘Black Beauty’, is a dark, fist-sized rock that landed in the Sahara Desert in 2011. Unlike most Martian meteorites, it is thought to be from the planet’s surface, not deeper inside, and to date from a crucial time in its evolution.
“Many scientists think that Mars was warm and wet in its early history, but the planet’s climate changed over time,” lead author Carl Agee, whose study was published in the U.S. journal Science Express told space.com.
Scientists believe NWA 7034 was formed from lava from a volcanic eruption on Mars around 2.1 billion years ago that cooled and hardened on the surface of the planet, possibly with the help of water.
“Perhaps most exciting is that the high water content could mean there was an interaction of the rocks with surface water either from volcanic magma, or from fluids from impacting comets during that time,” said co-author Andrew Steele. “It is the richest Martian meteorite geochemically and further analyses are bound to unleash more surprises.”
The abundance of water molecules in the rock — about 6,000 parts per million, 10 times more than other known meteorites — suggest water activity persisted on the Martian surface at that time, known as the Amazonian epoch.
More than 100 Martian meteorites have been discovered on Earth to date. — AFP