Martian Meteorite Reveals Atmospheric Secrets
October 12, 2012

Moroccan Meteorite Contains Traces Of Martian Atmosphere

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

An international team of researchers is examining a meteorite that landed 14 months ago in the Moroccan desert for information about Mars. Traces of the Martian atmosphere were trapped in the Tissint meteorite, according to the study led by the University of Alberta.

“Our team matched traces of gases found inside the Tissint meteorite with samples of Mars´ atmosphere collected in 1976 by Viking, NASA´s Mars lander mission,” said Chris Herd, a researcher at UA.

The meteorite was a fairly typical bit of volcanic rock on the surface of Mars around 600 million years ago, until it was launched off the planet by the impact shockwave of an asteroid.

“At the instant of that impact with Mars, a shock wave shot through the rock,” said Herd. “Cracks and fissures within the rock were sealed instantly by the heat, trapping components of Mars´ atmosphere inside, and forming black, glassy spots.”

Sometime between 700,000 and one million years ago, the rock floated through outer space until it streaked through the Earth's atmosphere and landed in Morocco in July 2011.

Only the fifth time such a Martian meteorite landing was witnessed, this one is important because it was collected so soon after landing it had no time to be weathered or contaminated by Earth.

Evidence of weathering on Mars involves water, which means there was water present on the surface of Mars within the past few hundred million years. Herd was careful to say that this sample does not carry any evidence that the water supported any life forms.

“Because the Martian rock was subjected to such intense heat, any water-borne microbial life forms that may have existed deep within cracks of the rock would have been destroyed,” said Herd.

NASA's current rover mission, Curiosity, is moving around Mars searching for more information on the history of the red planet. The new study, published in Science, makes it more crucial than ever that a return mission to Mars to collect and bring back rocks be formulated.

“Martian rocks delivered to Earth by a spacecraft would provide the best opportunity to see if life was ever clinging to the surface of Mars.”