MessageToEagle.com - Scientists at the University of Glasgow together with the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre and
the Natural History Museum (London) have discovered the first evidence of water dissolving the surface of Mars.
In a paper published in the Meteoritical Society’s journal MAPS, the research team outline the results of tests
on a 1.7-gram fragment of a Martian meteorite known as Nakhla, which was provided by the Natural History Museum.
Three largest pieces of Nakhla meteorite (1813 grams, 1651 grams and 1318 grams). Note the
thin black fusion crust and broken surface. Photograph kindly provided by Gaber M. Naim, Director, Egyptian Geological Survey.
Previous research on Nakhla has provided evidence of the existence of
water on Mars through the presence in the
meteorite of ‘secondary minerals’ – types of carbonates, hydrous silicates and sulfates most likely formed when
Martian minerals reacted with liquid water.
“What has been unclear in the past is exactly where the chemical elements which made up the secondary minerals
within Nakhla came from," Professor Martin Lee of the University’s School of Geographical and Earth Sciences and
lead author of the paper, said.
“Using a scanning electron microscope, we examined many tiny bowl-shaped depressions, known as etch pits, in grains
of the minerals olivine and augite found in the meteorite.
“What we’ve found for the first time is evidence that the etch pits were created when water dissolved the olivine
and augite, and that the elements released from those minerals led to the formation of the secondary minerals.
“It’s an exciting discovery and better informs of our understanding of how water affected rock on Mars.”
“From the amount of dissolution we observed, it’s likely that this particular piece of Mars
was affected by water for only a few months and probably less than a year in total," Professor Lee added.
By examining the amount of dissolution which occurred in the etch pits formed within the minerals, the team have
also been able to estimate how long the water was present within the sample.
Nakhla 1913,25 after breaking in 1998. NASA photo # S98-04013
“That’s certainly not long enough to sustain a life-supporting biosphere; however, the findings of our study are
from a tiny piece of a very small chunk of the surface of Mars, so it’s difficult to draw any large-scale conclusions
about the presence of water on the planet or its implications for life.
“Our research does raise fascinating questions about exactly how long ago the water interacted with the part of
Mars which Nakhla came from and where the water might have gone. We’ll be continuing to look for clues to the
answers to these questions in future research. Results from NASA’s Curiosity rover, currently on the surface
of Mars, will also help us build a clearer picture of the history of Martian water.”
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