New study points to limited water circulation late in Mars’ history

(ORDO NEWS) — A research team led by the University of Lund in Sweden studied the meteorite from Mars using neutron and X-ray tomography.

The technology, which may be used to study samples from the Red Planet in 2030, has shown that the meteorite had limited exposure to water, making it unlikely that life existed at that time and place.

In February 2021, NASA’s Perseverance spacecraft will parachute down on the dusty surface of Mars in a cloud of smoke.

For several years, the craft will move across the surface and take samples to try to answer the question posed by David Bowie in Life on Mars in 1971.

It won’t be until 2030 that Nasa plans to send samples back to Earth, but material from Mars is already being studied – in the form of meteorites.

In a new study published in the journal Science Advances, an international research team studied a meteorite about 1.3 billion years old using advanced scanning.

“Because water is central to the question of whether life ever existed on Mars, we wanted to study how much the meteorite reacted with water when it was still part of the Martian rock,” explains Josefin Martell, PhD student in geology at Lund University.

To answer the question of whether there was any large hydrothermal system, which is usually a favorable environment for the emergence of life, the researchers used neutron and X-ray tomography. X-ray tomography is a common method for examining an object without damaging it. Neutron tomography was used because neutrons are very sensitive to hydrogen.

This means that if a mineral contains hydrogen, then you can study it in three dimensions and see where the hydrogen is in the meteorite.

Hydrogen (H) is always of interest to scientists studying material from Mars, as water (H2O) is essential for life as we know it. The results indicate that it appears that quite a small portion of the sample reacted with the water, and therefore it is likely that not a large hydrothermal system resulted in the change.

“A more likely explanation is that the reaction occurred after small accumulations of underground ice melted during a meteorite impact about 630 million years ago. Of course, this does not mean that life could not exist elsewhere on Mars or that it could not be at another time,” says Josephine Martell.

The researchers hope the results of their study will be useful when NASA brings back the first samples from Mars around 2030, and there are many reasons to believe that current neutron and X-ray tomography technology will be useful when that happens.

“It would be great if we could study these samples at the European Spallation Source, ESS research facility in Lund, which by then will be the world’s most powerful neutron source,” Josefin Martell concludes.


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