A new study has determined that Mars is likely far wetter than previously thought, and therefore more capable of supporting life, according to scientists. The new investigation simulated Martian meteorites in order to understand more about Mars’s ancient environment, hinting towards the view that previous understanding may have been completely wrong.
In previous studies, a specific mineral that is found in Martian meteorites was used to determine that the planet had an ancient, dry environment. However, new conclusions state that it might have contained hydrogen which hints towards a planet covered with a lot more water. Water is seen as one of the central building blocks and requirements for life to exist, therefore any discovery of water improves the chances of the planet being inhabited. Everywhere on Earth that contains water also contains life in some form. The study also discovered that the important material could help create phosphorous, which is another element essential for life.
The recent study involved scientists creating a synthetic version of a mineral known as whitlockite, which was then given shock-compression experiments on samples of the material, thereby simulating the conditions of being thrown on a meteorite from Mars, according to reports. Following this, the material was then studied using X-rays to find the microscopic make up, which is when they found that whitlockite could become dehydrated from those shocks and form merrillite. This is commonly found in meteorites thrown to Earth from Mars. Martin Kunz, a staff scientist who worked on the studies of the samples, said, “This is important for deducing how much water could have been on Mars, and whether the water was from Mars itself rather than comets or meteorites.”
Oliver Tschauner, a professor who co-led the study with Christopher Adcock, said, “If even a part of merrillite had been whitlockite before, it changes the water budget of Mars dramatically.” The understanding of the “water budget” is essential to finding out whether there was ever life on Mars. Whitlockite can be dissolved in water to make phosphorus, which is required for life on Earth, and scientists believe that it could have once been abundant on the planet. Professor Tschauner said, “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?”
Reports from the Independent claim that “To simulate the effect of being thrown from Mars, scientists blasted the synthetic whitlockite samples with metal plates that were fired from guns at about 1,678 miles per hour and with huge amounts of pressure. That extreme situation was required to simulate the shock of being hurled the planets atmosphere.” Professor Tschauner said, “You need a very severe impact to accelerate material fast enough to escape the gravitational pull of Mars.”
Those conditions lasted for only 100 billionths of a second, which is merely 1% as long as the real experience would be. This means that the conversion to merrillite would be much more potent occurring on Mars. Scientists will now further study the meteorites on Earth by looking for traces of water as they hope to prove that the conversion has taken place. If their investigation is a success, it could add huge evidence to prove that Mars once flowed with water, and could continue to do so today. This furthers scientists announcements in 2013 which stated that steaks on the planet’s surface could have been caused by flowing water, as well as last year’s discovery that scientists found a huge underground body of water ice on Mars.
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