This week, scientists published research in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta (a bi-weekly journal co-sponsored by the Geochemical Society and the Meteoritical Society) that might help reveal the secret to life on Mars. To study Mars, scientists are primarily limited to meteorites that have fallen to Earth. Unfortunately, these meteorites have weathered and this might mask any clues from their time on the red planet. However, if scientists can show that clues to habitability date from before the meteorite’s time on Earth, they can draw conclusions as to the possibility of life on Mars.
The meteorite in this study, the Nakhlite Meteorite, was recovered from the Miller Range of Antarctica in 2003 and formed on Mars about one billion years ago. It weighs approximately 1.5 pounds and is the size of a tennis ball. By studying the composition of the meteorite, scientists are attempting to identify the difference between weathering that occurred on Earth and weathering that occurred on Mars. They identified water-related minerals and other chemicals signatures associated with liquid water.
This research is by no means definitive, but it serves as a jumping off point for future research. Past studies of meteorites, as well as data from the Mars Rover and satellites, have shown that there was likely liquid water on Mars in the past. However, until it is possible to return samples from a Mars mission to Earth, meteorites are scientists best option for research. Current research also suggests that the ‘habitable zone’, or the region in a solar system that can support liquid water, might be larger than previously thought. This could mean a lot for the future of astronomy.
To learn more about the possibility of life on other planets, check out the links below!
Stopar, J.D., Taylor, G.J., Velbel, M.A., Norman, M.D., Vicenzi, E.P., Hallis, L.J. 2013. Element abundances, patterns, and mobility in Nakhlite Miller Range 03346 and implications for aqueous alteration.Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 112: 208-225.