Thursday, December 8

A meteorite could reveal new details about the early habitability of Mars

Billions of years ago, the Solar System was experiencing a period in which many space bodies suffered several violent impacts by large asteroids, an event known as late intense bombardment.

According to previous studies, these impacts on the planet Mars would have concluded 4.48 million years ago, which would have allowed it to develop conditions to harbor life about 4.2 billion years ago.

However, a new research published last Wednesday by the journal Science, suggests that these bombardments ended millions of years later than previously thought.

Mars continued to be subjected to impact bombardment after this time, on the scale known to cause mass extinctions on Earth.explained one of the authors, Aaron Cavoise, a planetary geologist and geochemist at Curtin University (Australia).

Image of the surface of Mars. (Photo: ESA via Getty Images)

Zircon, a mineral we describe, provides evidence of such impacts., and highlights the possibility that the window of habitability may have occurred later than previously thought, perhaps coinciding with the evidence of liquid water on Mars 3.9 to 3.7 billion years ago“, he added.

A look at the “Black Beauty”

The group of researchers analyzed the grains, minerals and formations of the meteorite named Northwest Africa 7034, also known as “Black Beauty”, a black space rock from the crust of Mars.

The Martian object, discovered in 2011 in the Sahara desert of Morocco, is a 320-gram piece of volcanic rock made up of different types of minerals. The keys to the finding lie in the deformations of the 66 grains of zircon analyzed, which showed signs of having been impacted.

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“High-pressure shock deformation had not previously been found in any Black Beauty mineral. This discovery of shock damage to a 4.45 billion-year-old Martian zircon provides new evidence of the dynamical processes that affected the surface of Mars primitive,” explained study co-author Morgan Cox.

Combined element map of the Martian meteorite rock fragment NWA 7034 analyzed in this study. (Image: Science Magazine)

Comparison with impacts on Earth

According to the analyzes carried out by the researchers, the deformations of the grains caused by the impacts are very similar to those that were once recorded on Earth, for example, in the Chicxulub crater, produced by the violent impact of an asteroid and which is believed to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.

In conclusion, the scientists calculated that the possibilities that Mars had to host life were possible 30 million years later than previously thought, assuming that the Martian surface needed to cool enough to create the conditions for life.

Dinosaur footprints in the Chicxulub crater. (Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images)

With information from DW.

Also read:
Depopulation of Earth could end Elon Musk’s dreams of colonizing Mars
· The “second moon of the Earth”: the asteroid that orbits our planet
· Why are airplane windows round?

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