The findings come from studying a synthetic version of whitlockite, a rare mineral on Earth. The research team ran shock-compression experiments to simulate the conditions that happen when a Martian sample is ejected from Mars into space; a fraction of these meteorites then make their way to Earth, where they fall on the surface and are collected.
Scientists studied the sample using X-ray experiments at Berkeley Lab's Advanced Light Source and at Argonne National Laboratory's Advanced Photon Source. Results show that the whitlockite becomes dehydrated and creates a mineral called merrillite, which has been found many times in Martian meteorites.
"If even a part of merrillite had been whitlockite before, it changes the water budget of Mars dramatically," Oliver Tschauner, co-leader of the study and a research professor in the Department of Geoscience at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said in a statement.
If the study proves true of actual Martian meteorites, this would help resolve a discrepancy between meteorite studies and examinations on the planet itself. While meteorite studies showed that Mars was dry, examinations by Martian rovers show abundant evidence of water. Certain minerals (such as hematite) formed in the presence of water. The Curiosity rover has also seen rounded pebbles and other evidence of ancient streambeds.
|The Mojave Crater on Mars, which is believed to be the source of some Martian meteorites found on Earth, is pictured here in a rendering produced by the HIRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.|
Whitlockite contains phosphorous — a needed element for life on Earth — and can also dissolve in water. Since merrillite is found in so many Martian meteorites, the study suggests that habitable conditions for life on Mars were common, at least in the region from where the meteorites came.
"The only missing link now is to prove that (merrillite) had, in fact, really been Martian whitlockite before," Tschauner said. "We have to go back to the real meteorites and see if there had been traces of water."
A key limitation of the study is the origins of Martian meteorites. Many collected on Earth likely came from one region of Mars, and only during a narrow time period: 150-586 million years ago. These meteorites represent samples below the surface that were excavated when an impact on Mars sent them flying off the planet. Because these samples were buried, they are believed to indicate the Martian environment in the more ancient past.
Read more at Discovery News