Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
New spectroscopic analysis has revealed that Black Beauty, a meteorite found several years ago in the Moroccan desert, is actually a 4.4 billion year old piece of the Martian crust, and may have the same composition as the rocks that currently cover the surface of the Red Planet.
In the study, the researchers explain that measurements of the meteorite also known as NWA 7034 are an exact match with orbital measurements of the dark plains on Mars, a region of the planet where the coating of red dust is thin enough to expose the rocks beneath the surface.
Writing in the journal Icarus, Brown University graduate student Kevin Cannon and colleagues from the University of New Mexico report that their findings may demonstrate that Black Beauty is representative of the “bulk background” of the rocks found on the surface of Mars.
When analysis of NWA 7034 began back in 2011, scientists knew from its chemical makeup that it was of Martian origin. However, it was unlike any other Martian meteorite ever studied, as all previous Martian rocks found here on Earth were igneous rocks comprised from cooled volcanic material and were classified as SNC meteorites (shergottites, nakhlites, or chassignites).
Conversely, Black Beauty is classified as a breccia, a mixture of different rock types welded together in a basaltic matrix, the researchers noted. It contains sedimentary components that match the chemical makeup of rocks analyzed by the Mars rovers, leading scientists to conclude that it is a piece of Martian crust – the first sample of its kind to find its way to Earth.
Cannon and his co-authors believed that Black Beauty could help solve a longstanding mystery surrounding the fact that spectral signals from SNC meteorites never matched up entirely with the spacecraft measurements from the Martian surface. They acquired a sample of the meteorite and used several different types of spectroscopic techniques to analyze it.
Among the methods used were a hyperspectral imaging system that had been developed by a Massachusetts-based firm known as Headwall photonics, which allowed them to obtain detailed images of the entire sample instead of just a small portion, Cannon said. They obtained an average composition that matched the data collected by orbiting spacecraft.
The authors explained that the spectral match will help them better understand the dark plains, and they suggest that the region most likely contains primarily breccia rocks similar in nature to Black Beauty. Since the dark plains are dust-poor regions, it is believed that they could represent the type of rocks that are hidden beneath the red dust throughout much of Mars.
“This is showing that if you went to Mars and picked up a chunk of crust, you’d expect it to be heavily beat up, battered, broken apart and put back together,” Cannon said. Given what experts known about Mars, he and his colleagues explain that this would make a lot of sense.