First meteorite linked to Martian crust

January 3, 2013
Mars. Image: NASA

After extensive analyses by a team of scientists led by Carl Agee at the University of New Mexico, researchers have identified a new class of Martian meteorite that likely originated from the Mars's crust. It is also the only meteoritic sample dated to 2.1 billion years ago, the early era of the most recent geologic epoch on Mars, an epoch called the Amazonian. The meteorite was found to contain an order of magnitude more water than any other Martian meteorite.

Researchers from the Carnegie Institution (Andrew Steele, Marilyn Fogel, Roxane Bowden, and Mihaela Glamoclija) studied carbon in the meteorite and have shown that organic carbon (macromolecular) similar to that seen in other Martian meteorites is also found in this meteorite. The research is published in the January 3, 2013, issue of .

The unique meteorite, dubbed Northwest Africa (NWA) 7034, has some similarities to, but is very different from other Martian meteorites known as SNC (for three members of the group: Shergotty, Nakhla, and Chassign). SNC meteorites currently number 110. And so far they are the only meteoritic samples from Mars that scientists have been able to study. However, their point of origin on the Red Planet is not known. In fact, recent data from lander and orbiter missions suggest that they are a mismatch for the Martian crust.

Designated Northwest Africa (NWA) 7034, and nicknamed "Black Beauty," the Martian meteorite weighs approximately 11 ounces (320 grams). Credit: NASA

As co-author Andrew Steele, who led the carbon analysis at the Carnegie Institution's Geophysical Laboratory explained: "The texture of the NWA meteorite is not like any of the SNC meteorites. It is made of cemented fragments of basalt, rock that forms from rapidly cooled lava, dominated with feldspar and pyroxene, most likely from volcanic activity. This composition is common for , but not from other . This unusual meteorite's chemistry suggests it came from the . It is first link thus far of any meteorite to the crust. Our carbon analysis also showed that the meteorite likely underwent secondary processing at the Martian surface, explaining the macromolecular organic carbon. "

Lead author Agee, of the Institute of Meteoritics at the University of New Mexico, remarked: "The basaltic rock in this meteorite is consistent with the crust or upper mantle of Mars based on findings from recent Martian rovers and orbiters. Our analysis of the oxygen isotopes shows that NWA 7034 is not like any other meteorites or planetary samples. The chemistry is consistent with a surface origin and an interaction with the Martian atmosphere. The abundance of water, some 6000 parts per million, suggests that the meteorite interacted with the Martian surface some 2.1 billion years ago."

"Perhaps most exciting, is that the high water content could mean there was an interaction of the rocks with surface water either from volcanic magma, or from fluids from impacting comets during that time," said Steele. "It is the richest Martian geochemically and further analyses are bound to unleash more surprises."

Explore further: ASU's Center for Meteorite Studies acquires exotic piece of Mars

More information: "Unique Meteorite from Early Amazonian Mars: Water-rich Basaltic Breccia Northwest Africa 7034," by C.B. Agee et al., Science, 2013.

Related Stories

Organic carbon from Mars, but not biological

May 24, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Molecules containing large chains of carbon and hydrogen--the building blocks of all life on Earth--have been the targets of missions to Mars from Viking to the present day. While these molecules have previously ...

Extensive water in Mars' interior

June 21, 2012

Until now, Earth was the only planet known to have vast reservoirs of water in its interior. Scientists analyzed the water content of two Martian meteorites originating from inside the Red Planet. They found that the amount ...

Moroccan desert meteorite delivers Martian secrets

October 11, 2012

(Phys.org)—A meteorite that landed in the Moroccan desert 14 months ago is providing more information about Mars, the planet where it originated. University of Alberta researcher Chris Herd helped in the study of the Tissint ...

Recommended for you

Image: Hubble sees a dying star's final moments

July 31, 2015

A dying star's final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The death throes of this star may only last mere moments on a cosmological timescale, but this star's demise is still quite ...

Binary star system precisely timed with pulsar's gamma-rays

July 31, 2015

Pulsars are rapidly rotating compact remnants born in the explosions of massive stars. They can be observed through their lighthouse-like beams of radio waves and gamma-rays. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational ...

Earth flyby of 'space peanut' captured in new video

July 31, 2015

NASA scientists have used two giant, Earth-based radio telescopes to bounce radar signals off a passing asteroid and produce images of the peanut-shaped body as it approached close to Earth this past weekend.

Exoplanets 20/20: Looking back to the future

July 31, 2015

Geoff Marcy remembers the hair standing up on the back of his neck. Paul Butler remembers being dead tired. The two men had just made history: the first confirmation of a planet orbiting another star.

4 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

PoppaJ
1.8 / 5 (5) Jan 03, 2013
I have always felt that what we see as mars is actually the cooled mantle of an earlier planet. That planet had the crust blown off prior to 2.1 billion years ago. I have a hunch that the earth impact that created the moon may have been a related to what we now see as Mars.
obama_socks
1.7 / 5 (6) Jan 03, 2013
".....researchers have identified a new class of Martian meteorite that likely originated from the Mars's crust."

As is usually the case, there is no concrete evidence for their assertions, and the word "likely: is just another indefinite which expresses a possibility, with no further evidence unless further investigation into it is conducted.

@PoppaJ
Your assertion is just as good as these meteorite scientists. They can't seem to produce the evidence to theirs either.
FrankHerbert
2.2 / 5 (10) Jan 03, 2013
Obama_socks is angry no one takes his wild assertions as fact.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (6) Jan 03, 2013
Cool. This is ~ 10-100 times the water content of the early mantle composition that the SNC meteorites constrain.

AFAIK SNCs are believed to originate from 3 pockets of mantle upwellings that impactors happened to pop. (Cf the massive shield volcanoes of Olympus & Tarsis for similar near surface pockets.)

This confirms the Phoenix find of near surface permafrost water ice.

@ Poppa_J: Highly unlikely, not tested by any observations. Mars northern deep plane is believed to be a possible result from a glancing impactor, that also could have resulted in the 2 still circling and the 1 deorbited moon observed. But that implies the crust was not wholesale lost.

@ obama_socks: As is usually the case, the evidence is in the paper. Or it wouldn't be published.

If likelihoods can be quantified, they are. Elsewhere such definite qualifications are used (as definitely nothing observed is 0 % uncertain).

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.