May 2, 2013
Secret To Life On Mars Could Be Revealed With Meteorite Studies
Alan McStravick for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Currently, if scientists want to study meteorites that had originated from the red planet, they have to rely upon celestial travelers that arrived on this planet so long ago they now possess characteristics that tell of their time on Earth. This masks most clues that might offer information about the meteorites' time on Mars.
However, a team of scientists has examined a meteorite that formed on Mars more than a billion years ago in the hopes of determining if conditions were ever right on the Red Planet to sustain life. While their research may not definitively answer this question, their work is necessary for future researchers if we are ever to know the answer to this age-old question.
“These meteorites contain water-related mineral and chemical signatures that can signify habitable conditions,” said Michigan State University (MSU) geological sciences professor Michael Velbel in a statement. “The trouble is by the time most of these meteorites have been lying around on Earth they pick up signatures that look just like habitable environments, because they are. Earth, obviously, is habitable."
“If we could somehow prove the signature on the meteorite was from before it came to Earth, that would be telling us about Mars,” he added.
The research team was able to find both mineral and chemical signatures on the meteorites indicative of terrestrial weathering. These are changes that took place on Earth. Due to this identification, the team contends these changes provide valuable clues for scientists.
“Our contribution is to provide additional depth and a little broader view than some work has done before in sorting out those two kinds of water-related alterations — the ones that happened on Earth and the ones that happened on Mars,” Velbel said.
The team examined what is known as a nakhlite meteorite. This specimen was recovered in 2003 in the Miller Range of Antarctica. This particular meteorite, recovered along with hundreds of others in the area, is approximately the size of a tennis ball and weighs in at approximately 1.5 pounds.
According to Velbel, previous examinations of meteorites originating on Mars, in combination with satellite and Rover data, has definitively proven water once existed on Mars.
“However,” he said, “until a Mars mission successfully returns samples from Mars, mineralogical studies of geochemical processes on Mars will continue to depend heavily on data from meteorites.”
Velbel is currently serving as a senior fellow at the Smithsonian Institution´s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in Washington DC.