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Meteorite from Mars gives clues to planet’s once wet climate

6 January 2013

A meteorite from Mars nicknamed ‘Black Beauty’, could give clues to the evolution of the planet which was once warm and wet and is now cold and dry.

Scientists say that the meteorite, which landed in the Sahara Desert in 2011, and is one of the oldest Martian meteorites discovered thus far, contained more than ten times the amount of water than normal.

“Many scientists think that Mars was warm and wet in its early history, but the planet’s climate changed over time,” said lead author Carl Agee, whose study was published in the US journal “Science Express”.

The fist-sized rock was believed to have been formed from lava from a volcanic eruption on Mars around 2.1 billion years ago that cooled and hardened on the surface of the planet, possibly with the help of water.

The abundance of water molecules in the rock, about 6,000 parts per million, 10 times more than other known meteorites, suggest water activity persisted on the Martian surface at that time, known as the Amazonian epoch.

“Perhaps most exciting is that the high water content could mean there was an interaction of the rocks with surface water either from volcanic magma, or from fluids from impacting comets during that time,” co-author Andrew Steele said.

Scientists spent several months trying to discover if the meteorite had, in fact, come from Mars or whether it had come from an asteroid belt or another planet. Most space rocks that fall to Earth as meteorites come from the asteroid belt, but a number can be traced to the moon and Mars. Scientists believe an asteroid or some other large object struck Mars, dislodging rocks and sending them into space. Occasionally, some plummet through Earth’s atmosphere.

“It is the richest Martian meteorite geochemically and further analyses are bound to unleash more surprises. The chemistry is consistent with a surface origin and an interaction with the Martian atmosphere,” said Agee.

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