Water rich Mars? New study suggests a more inhabitable past

Posted March 10, 2017

Scientists previously thought the mineral merrillite was proof of a dry environment. There is a mineral commonly found in these Martian meteorites called merrillite, that does not exist on Earth. The means it is possible the rocks meteorites are made from originally started life with whitlockite in them in an environment with more water than previously thought.

For the study, researchers generated a synthetic version of the Martian mineral called whitlockite and conducted some shock-compression tests on the mineral samples. Thereafter, their microscopic composition was studied via X-ray experiments.

Because Martian meteorites were altered during the violent processes that ejected them from Mars as well as by the time they spent on Earth, scientists hope to eventually study rocks returned from Mars in a future mission.

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According to Martin Kunz, an associate scientist who worked on the researches of the Martian mineral samples, "Up to now, we haven't is deduced the exact amount of water that Mars could have had".

"If even a part of merrillite had been whitlockite before, it changes the water budget of Mars dramatically", Oliver Tschauner, professor of research in the Department of Geoscience at UNLV and co-leader of the study, said in a statement. Science is closing in on the answers to a number of big questions about our solar system, life elsewhere, and Mars. This means that the planet had one of the key building blocks for life on Earth.

"The overarching question here is about water on Mars and its early history on Mars: Had there ever been an environment that enabled a generation of life on Mars?"

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Or go to Mars, collect some rocks and bring them home.

This consisted of placing the synthetic whitlockite sample inside a projectile, then using a helium gas gun to accelerate it up to speeds of 700 meters per second (2520 km/h or 1500 mph) into a metal plate - thus subjecting it to intense heat and pressure. What all this boils down to is that once upon a time, Mars could have been wet, even very wet, and had conditions appropriate for the development of life. That was only about 1 per cent as long as the actual experience would be - meaning that the conversion to merrillite would be even more potent on Mars.

"Merrillite is found in many meteorites (including Martian)". If the merrilite found on Mars was once whitlockite, previous assumptions relating to water on Mars would not be accurate. In 2013, scientists announced that streaks on the planet's surface appear to be caused by flowing water, and late past year researchers said that they had found a huge underground body of water ice on the planet. Some believe the entire planet was covered by an ocean while others suspect the water was present only in specific locations. Many Martian meteorites appear to come from a period around 150 million to 586 million years ago, and are thrown onto the Earth from deep beneath the surface, meaning that they don't necessary reflect the recent geology on the Red Planet's surface.

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