Martian Meteorite Offers Evidence of Surface Water on Mars
Research Scientists funded in part by NASA’s Cosmochemistry Program and Astrobiology Institute have announced that a meteorite from Mars that was found in the Sahara desert contains 10 times more water than any other Martian meteorite previously analyzed.
The meteorite, designated Northwest Africa (NWA) 7034, was discovered in an unknown region of the Sahara desert, in northwest Africa.
Moroccan resident A. Habibi found the Martian meteorite in 2011, and it was purchased by Dr. Jay Piatek, noted meteorite collector and director of the Piatek Institute in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Dr. Piatek maintains an extremely large collection of meteorites which can be viewed at the Jay Piatek collection on the Encyclopedia of Meteorites website.
The NASA funded researchers that have been analyzing a small slice of NWA 7034, donated to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, NM by Dr. Piatek, and indications are it is the 1st meteorite discovered to have originated from the surface of Mars.
The team of US scientists studying the meteorite have said that it has been determined the meteorite had formed 2.1 billion years ago during the Martian geological period known as the Amazonian.
NASA has used data gathered from the different Mars Rovers and Mars orbiting satellites to provide comparisons of this meteorite to surface rocks and outcroppings from the Martian crust. Researchers say that NWA 7034 is an excellent match to the Martian surface when compared to the NASA data.
NWA 7034 has been nicknamed “Black Beauty” by the researchers.
The research study was published on January 3, 2013, in the most recent edition of Science Express.
Carbon dating of the meteorite that indicated it was formed over 2 billion years ago was a significant finding for the research scientists.
“The age of NWA 7034 is important because it is significantly older than most other Martian meteorites,” said Mitch Schulte, program scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA headquarters in Washington. “We now have insight into a piece of Mars history at a critical time in its evolution.”
This discovery has implications for the Mars Rover Curiosity currently analyzing the Martian surface.
“The contents of this meteorite may challenge many long-held notions about Martian geology,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “These findings also present an important reference frame for the curiosity rover as it searches for reduced organics in the minerals exposed in the bedrock of Gale Crater.”
Carl Agee, lead research scientist for the group and director and curator of the University of New Mexico’s Institute of Meteoritics in Albuquerque said, “This Martian meteorite has everything in its composition that you’d want in order to further our understanding of the Red Planet,” adding, “This unique meteorite tells us what volcanism was like on Mars 2 billion years ago. It also gives us a glimpse of ancient surface and environmental conditions on Mars that no other meteorite has ever offered.”
Until now the majority of Martian meteorites have been categorized into 3 different areas, known as SNC. The specific point of origin on Mars for meteorites categorized as SNC is unknown, and data from recent Mars missions indicates they do not match objects currently on the Martian surface. NWA 7034 has unique characteristics not seen previously in any other Martian meteorite, including the presence of macromolecular organic carbon.
“The texture of the NWA meteorite is not like any of the SNC meteorites,” said study co-author Andrew Steele, who led the carbon analysis at the Carnegie Institution’s Geophysical Laboratory. “This is an exciting measurement in Mars and planetary science. We now have more context than ever before to understanding where they may come from.”
This discovery may reveal secrets about Mars’ potential to support life, either in the past or in the future.
Article by Jim Donahue
Links / References