Scientists look inside a Martian meteorite to find signs of a habitable world

(ORDO NEWS) — Liquid water once formed rock inside a meteorite from Mars, but likely didn’t support microbial life, a new study says.

The stone belongs to a class of meteorites known as nakhlites, which in origin are volcanic rocks ejected by an asteroid impact from Mars about 11 million years ago.

Previous research has shown that the Nakhlites may shed light on the Red Planet’s ancient hydrothermal systems, in particular its hot springs.

Hot springs are an intriguing target as scientists believe these environments could have been the cradle of early life on Earth, so we wonder if the same holds true on Mars and beyond.

In a new study, scientists examined Miller Range 03346 nakhlite, a 715-gram rock that scientists discovered in Antarctica’s Miller Mountain Range in 2003.

“We know from previous studies that the minerals in this particular meteorite reacted with water about 630 million years ago,” said study lead author Josephine Martell, a planetary scientist at Lund University in Sweden.

But Martell and her colleagues wanted more information about the stone’s history. The scientists used non-destructive neutron and X-ray scanning to assess how much liquid water had altered rock minerals, and therefore whether Mars had a hydrothermal system that could potentially support life.

“I think it’s very interesting that we can study meteorites without breaking them open,” Martell said. “We scanned our samples with X-rays and neutrons and basically got a 3D image showing what our sample looks like from the inside.”

The scientists found that the minerals in the meteorite, which had been altered by liquid water, were concentrated in separate areas.

This pattern suggests that the water responsible for altering these minerals did not seep into the rock from a hydrothermal system.

Instead, the researchers argue that the water most likely came from ice buried in the rock itself, which melted during the impact that caused the nakhlite to fall from Mars.

These findings suggest that in the area where nakhlite originated, “conditions were not conducive to the emergence or flourishing of life,” Martell said. However, these findings apply “only to this time and place” and not to Mars as a whole, she warned.

“It may be tempting for some to draw conclusions about life on Mars in general. We only report what we see in our particular sample.”

These results show that neutron and X-ray scanning could be useful in analyzing rocks from other planets – “for example, when NASA returns samples from Mars,” Martell said.

The Perseverance rover is currently drilling in search of samples that are expected to arrive around 2030. When dealing with rare specimens, you want to run as many analyzes as possible before cutting them up.”


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