Evidence gathered from meteors suggests Mars may have been a much wetter planet than previously thought, according to research from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Nevada.
The study found a mineral could be made by meteorites from Mars comprised of a a hydrogen-rich mineral. 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.
“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. Oliver Tschauner, a geology research professor at the University of Nevada, said in a press statement.
Researchers created synthetic samples of merrillite, a mineral commonly found in Martian meteorites that does not occur naturally on Earth. Merrillite can be formed from another mineral called whitlockite if the second mineral is subjected to the forces affecting a meteor.
“If even a part of merrillite had been whitlockite before, it changes the water budget of Mars dramatically,” Tschauner said. “The only missing link now is to prove that [merrillite] had, in fact, really been Martian whitlockite before. We have to go back to the real meteorites and see if there had been traces of water.”
The study found that whitlockite can be dissolved in water and contains phosphorous, which is essential for life on Earth. Since merrillite is very common in meteorites from Mars, this provides evidence that there could be life on the Red Planet.
A small patch of land on Mars appears to have been flooded by water very recently, according to a study 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.
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