Meteorites from Mars, like NWA 7034 (shown here), contain evidence of Mars' watery past. Credit: NASA

Meteorite From Mars is Water-Rich

3 Jan , 2013

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Martian meteorite NWA 7034 weighs approximately 320 grams (11 ounces). Credit: NASA

A 2-billion-year-old rock found in the Sahara desert has been identified as a meteorite from Mars’ crust, and it contains ten times more water than any other Martian meteorite found on Earth. It also contains organic carbon. The age of the rock, called NWA 7034, would put its origins in the early era of the most recent geologic epoch on Mars, the Amazonian epoch. While its composition is different from any previously studied Martian meteorite, NASA says it matches surface rocks and outcrops that have been studied by Mars rovers and Mars-orbiting satellites.

“The contents of this meteorite may challenge many long held notions about Martian geology,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “These findings also present an important reference frame for the Curiosity rover as it searches for reduced organics in the minerals exposed in the bedrock of Gale Crater.”

This new class of meteorite was found in 2011 in the Sahara Desert. Designated Northwest Africa (NWA) 7034, and nicknamed “Black Beauty,” it weighs approximately 320 grams (11 ounces). Research teams from the University of New Mexico, the University of California at San Diego and the Carnegie Institution in Washington analyzed mineral and chemical composition, age, and water content.

NWA 7034 is made of cemented fragments of basalt, rock that forms from rapidly cooled lava. The fragments are primarily feldspar and pyroxene, most likely from volcanic activity.

“This Martian meteorite has everything in its composition that you’d want in order to further our understanding of the Red Planet,” said Carl Agee, leader of the analysis team and director and curator at the University of New Mexico’s Institute of Meteoritics in Albuquerque. “This unique meteorite tells us what volcanism was like on Mars 2 billion years ago. It also gives us a glimpse of ancient surface and environmental conditions on Mars that no other meteorite has ever offered.”

There are about one hundred Martian meteorites that have been collected on Earth. They were all likely blasted off the Red Planet by either an asteroid or comet impact, and then spent millions of years traveling through space before falling to Earth.

Researchers theorize the large amount of water contained in NWA 7034 may have originated from interaction of the rocks with water present in Mars’ crust. The meteorite also has a different mixture of oxygen isotopes than has been found in other Martian meteorites, which could have resulted from interaction with the Martian atmosphere.

Scientists say the age of NWA 7034 is important because it is much older than most other Martian meteorites.

“We now have insight into a piece of Mars’ history at a critical time in its evolution,” said Mitch Schulte, program scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters.

Most Martian meteorites are divided into three rock types, named after three meteorites; Shergotty, Nakhla, and Chassigny. These “SNC” meteorites currently number about 110. Their point of origin on Mars is not known and recent data from lander and orbiter missions suggest they are a mismatch for the Martian crust. Although NWA 7034 has similarities to the SNC meteorites, including the presence of macromolecular organic carbon, this new meteorite has many unique characteristics.

“The texture of the NWA meteorite is not like any of the SNC meteorites,” said co-author Andrew Steele, who led the carbon analysis at the Carnegie Institution’s Geophysical Laboratory. “This is an exciting measurement in Mars and planetary science. We now have more context than ever before to understanding where they may come from.”

Sources: NASA, Carnegie Institution for Science

This article was updated on 1/4/13.

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Be a Mentor
Guest
January 3, 2013 11:08 PM

This is fascinating. I like to think that previously in another time Mars was not a barren waste land.

Ian McLeod
Guest
January 3, 2013 11:54 PM

Everything changes.

Simon Donaldson
Guest
January 4, 2013 1:03 AM

Please forgive my ignorance on the subject – but how does a piece of rock somehow defy the law of gravity and make its way out the atmosphere of a planet?

Some kind of violent super-volcano eruption? A bodily-impact on the planet surface that rickets some rocks outwards?

Sorry for the dumb-question – I genuinely would LOVE to know, anyone know the answer? ^^

Tim Amato
Guest
Tim Amato
January 4, 2013 2:00 AM

Martian meteorites have been blasted off the surface of Mars from impacts of their own from what I’ve been informed. Could it be from a volcanic explosion? Mars has lower gravity and thinner atmosphere than our own Earth allowing for different laws of physics. So you could be making correct assumptions.

Torbjörn Larsson
Guest
January 4, 2013 8:13 AM
I wouldn’t call lower surface gravity or lower density atmosphere (even 2 billion years ago lower than Earth’s) making different laws of physics. But certainly different outcomes. (Say, impact scars look slightly different on different planets because of such factors.) There is a “transport belt” of material flowing between planets like Mars and Earth, caused by so called hypervelocity impactors. Here is how it happens, as I remember it from the top of my head from astrobiology class. (I will use Earth as example, as I have the figures in my head.) Earth has an orbital velocity of ~ 30 km/s. If it catches up with an asteroid that doesn’t coorbit, it can meet it at speed. The… Read more »
Simon Donaldson
Guest
January 4, 2013 10:49 PM

A Fascinating Answer – I’m glad to know that others also put their time and effort into explaining something complicated to those that ask.

Thank you

Bobr
Member
Bobr
January 4, 2013 7:52 AM
I sincerely don’t mean this to sound harsh, but as you’ve already confessed, that really is a dumb question! I can tell by your post spelling and grammar that you’re not a child, and have made your way somewhat considerably through the education system, but why don’t you crack open some books to educate yourself on astronomy instead of looking for established science answers in blogs, of all places! Jeez – you could have answered that question with a simple Google search! Make an effort to get the answers yourself, first! Much more rewarding, and much more accurate information. Regarding volcanoes ejecting material from Mars – I’ll only comment because of Tim’s erroneous post. No volcanoes; impacts are… Read more »
Pema
Member
Pema
January 6, 2013 1:41 AM

Congratulations, you’re a douchebag.

JM
Guest
JM
January 4, 2013 6:38 AM

Amazing…found in the Sahara Desert. Seems that would be akin to finding a needle in a haystack.

Hans Peter Uhrig
Guest
Hans Peter Uhrig
January 4, 2013 9:46 AM

Interesting!
While the researchers of the above article were focused on the water content and source of the NWA Mars meteorites they also “stumbled across” the richness in organic C and O which supports the findings of another group of researchers looking at the same class of meteorites from Mars recently:

DISCOVERY OF BIOLOGICAL STRUCTURES IN THE TISSINT MARS METEORITE
http://www.panspermia.org/tissintfinal.pdf

Torbjörn Larsson
Guest
January 4, 2013 4:40 PM
Well, I hope you don’t take anything published with Wickramasinghe’s name on it seriously. The man is a pseudoscience transpermia producer. In this case they do the obligatory pattern search for structures and leave it at that. [As a comparison from Earth, paleontologist Schopf, one of the astrobiology experts that supports NASA, used to do that a lot in the 80’s – 90’s, but academically acceptable. However, that type of research and his previous results got rejected one by another, until paleontologist Brazier et al delivered a definite paper on how _not to_ do these things somewhere in the later 00’s. You want corroborative evidence from rigorous chemistry tied to the morphology. Of course, it was a windup… Read more »
Hans Peter Uhrig
Guest
Hans Peter Uhrig
January 7, 2013 9:01 AM
So why everybody still wonders how life came into existence if it is so easy? Expanding on that why does everybody think it was only possible on Earth? By the way the science crews of the “other side of the fence” also use these vague null hypothesis approach – just the other way around claiming that if there is a way for abiogenesis it must be the only resolution. Think about it and have a look at the SEM close-ups of the carbon/oxygen globules in the linked paper without paying attention to the text if you don’t like the authors. Its not about patterns only here but about linked and approved chemical data (see research of the above… Read more »
Michael Roberts
Guest
Michael Roberts
January 5, 2013 6:19 PM

so for me it seems that scientists go back and forth arguing about Mars and its past, I think mars just got too cold

Pema
Member
Pema
January 6, 2013 1:44 AM

Interesting stuff!
By the way, how do they know this specific rock came from mars?

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