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Tag Archives: meteorites

Mars meteorite 1st look at Red Planet’s ancient crust

Sawn surface of the Mars meteorite NWA 7533 showing both light and dark clasts in grey matrix.

Sawn surface of the Mars meteorite NWA 7533 showing both light and dark clasts in grey matrix. (Luc Labenne)

A meteorite found last year in the Sahara Desert is likely the first recognized piece of ancient Martian crust, a new study reports.

The Mars meteorite NWA 7533 is 4.4 billion years old and contains evidence of long-ago asteroid strikes, suggesting that the rock came from the Red Planet’s ancient and cratered southern highlands, researchers said.

“We finally have a sample of the Martian highlands, that portion of Mars that holds all the secrets to Mars’ birth and early development,” lead author Munir Humayun of Florida State University told SPACE.com via email. [Photos: Amazing Meteorites from Mars]

“It’s the part of Mars’ history where the oceans and atmosphere developed, and where life would have developed if it ever did on Mars,” Humayun added. “I will liken this to opening a treasure chest — it may take a while before we find the best treasures, but treasures aplenty lurk in this meteorite.”

Humayun and his colleagues subjected NWA (short for northwest Africa, where the rock was found) 7533 to a series of analyses. The researchers determined the meteorite’s age, for example, by determining that crystals within it called zircons formed about 4.4 billion years ago.

“This date is about 100 million years after the first dust condensed in the solar system,” Humayun said in a statement. “We now know that Mars had a crust within the first 100 million years of the start of planet-building, and that Mars’ crust formed concurrently with the oldest crusts on Earth and the moon.”

The team also found high concentrations of normally rare elements such as nickel, osmium and iridium in NWA 7533, indicating that the rock formed in a region that was pummeled by chondritic meteors, which are relatively enriched in these materials.

Further, after measuring the abundances of certain elements within the meteorite, Humayun and his team were able to calculate a thickness for the Red Planet’s crust.

“The amount of melting on Mars was low, sufficient to accumulate a 50-kilometer-thickness [31 miles] crust, but Mars evidently escaped the giant impact-style melting that affected the Earth and moon,” Humayun told SPACE.com. (Most scientists think the moon formed from material blasted into space when a planet-size body crashed into Earth more than 4 billion years ago.)

“This is the first reliable geochemical estimate of the thickness of Mars’ crust, and it agrees with geophysical estimates from gravity and topography,” he added.

Though researchers believe ancient Mars was relatively warm and wet, the team found no hydrous silicate minerals — which form in the presence of liquid water — within NWA 7533. Scientists will likely unearth more such puzzling details as they study the meteorite further, Humayun said.

“I expect more surprises as we dig deeper into our Martian treasure chest — some we will understand, and others may continue to befuddle us for a while to come,” he said.

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Life on Mars!

While long dismissed that no life was on Mars, recent studies show that the possibility strongly exists.  It started here on Earth, where researchers found that impacts from meteorites, while they destroy everything in their impact zone, spread pieces far and wide in the underground areas of the impact zone.  Water and nutrients can find these fragments through fissures and provide them with the ability to survive.  While it is believed the likelihood of life on the surface of Mars is still unlikely, researchers now think that perhaps life exists underneath the surface, due to its much different density and composition and the large number of former meteorite strikes upon its surface.  According to the article:

‘The deep subsurface promises to be a protected habitat for potential Martian life.’

– Dwayne C. Brown, NASA spokesman

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2012/04/20/mars-craters-safe-haven-for-life/?intcmp=features#ixzz1skU7W5nl

 

“However, the sub-surface of Mars, even a few inches below the surface, may be protected from solar ultraviolet and particulate radiation and life may find a hospitable zone there. Asteroid and meteor impacts provide a ‘window’ to the near-surface, the subsurface of Mars — and may provide a unique opportunity to search for life there.”

Levine retired from the NASA Langley Research Center last year after 41 years of federal service and joined the College of William and Mary as Research Professor in the Department of Applied Science, where he continues his research on the question of life on Mars — including the possibility of flying a rocket-powered, robotic airplane a mile above the surface of Mars to detect trace gases of biological origin that may be produced by sub-surface life.

According to James Wray, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and a scientific team member for an upcoming NASA mission to Mars, the Martian surface today is too cold — and the air too thin — for liquid water. But there’s water ice in the subsurface, and if a source of heat is supplied, it could be melted.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2012/04/20/mars-craters-safe-haven-for-life/?intcmp=features#ixzz1skUPlZ2F

Of course, it is unlikely the life will be like that in the movie version of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles:

And even less hope the life will look like the Princess of Mars from Edgar Rice Burroughs:

 

I have a feeling that Princess of Mars types only appear in literature and in movies and anything we encounter in space will be less appealing to our purile interests.  I am guessing our Martians, if they exist, will look more like this:

 

 

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