BE2C2 Report — Most Martian meteorites found on Earth were ejected from the surface of the Red Planet between 150 million and 586 million years ago. New research suggests these rock samples boast evidence of Mars’ water-rich history.
Study recently conducted at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Nevada, of a mineral found in Martian meteorites suggest that Mars’ past may have been wetter than previously thought.
The mineral isn’t found on Earth but merrillite crystals are often found in Martian meteorites. Merrillite is a derivative of whitlockite, a hydrogen-rich mineral found on Mars.
If true, this would indicate a more water-rich history for the Red Planet than scientists initially estimated. The mineral’s presence was originally considered proof of a dry environment on Mars for much of history.
“If even a part of merrillite had been whitlockite before, it changes the water budget of Mars dramatically,” Oliver Tschauner, a professor of geosciences at the University of Nevada Las Vegas said.
“The overarching question here is about water on Mars and its early history on Mars: Had there ever been an environment that enabled a generation of life on Mars?,” Dr. Tschauner said in a press statement.
“We have to go back to the real meteorites and see if there had been traces of water,” Tschauner said.
The only problem is, most of the source material for merrillite-rich Martian meteorites found on Earth is buried more than a half-mile beneath the surface of the Red Planet.
On the surface, scientists say a small patch of land on Mars appears to have been flooded by water very recently. The study was published last month by researchers from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. Geological fieldwork conducted on similar dunes on Earth found they are created by evaporating groundwater.
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover discovered new geological evidence in January that liquid water was indeed flowing on the Red Planet in the distant past. Curiosity may have discovered 3 billion-year-old mud cracks, meaning the planet was likely covered in water at that time. The rover also identified geological layering patterns called cross-bedding which typically forms on Earth when water flows rapidly near the shore of a lake.
Curiosity found numerous organic molecules in December “all over” the Red Planet in samples it drilled out of rocks, as well as organic molecules. Scientists at the University of Texas published research in November that said some volcanic areas on Mars could be the ideal chemical environment for life to develop and flourish even in the present day.
These discoveries are just the latest to determine that the Red Planet may have contained habitats that can potentially support life. Other observations from the rover indicate that Mars could have supported life for well over 100 million years.