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Martian Glass May Reveal Evidence of Past, Ancient Life on the Red Planet

First Posted: Jun 08, 2015 05:35 PM EDT
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Scientists may have found a way to detect past life on Mars. Researchers have used satellite data to detect deposits of glass within impact craters and Mars. These glasses might just provide insight into the possibility of past life on the Red Planet.

Over the last few years, several research groups have shown that on Earth, ancient biosignatures can be preserved in impact glass. One of these studies actually found organic molecules and even plant matter trapped in glass formed by an impact that occurred millions of years ago in Argentina.

"The work done by Pete and others showed us that glasses are potentially important for preserving biosignatures," said Kevin Cannon, lead author of the new study, in a news release. "Knowing that, we wanted to go look for them on Mars and that's what we did here. Before this paper no one had been able to definitively detect them on the surface."

The researchers found that large glass deposits are present in several ancient and well-preserved craters scattered across the Martian surface. It's possible that these deposits are relatively common impact features on Mars and could be targets for future exploration.

In fact, the scientists already have a spot in mind. One of the craters, called Hargraves, is located near the Nili Fossae trough, which is a 400-mile-long depression that stretches across the Martian surface. This region is one of the leading landing site contenders for the Mars 2020 rover, which could mean that the rover would be perfectly placed to study this glass.

"If you had an impact that dug in and sampled that subsurface environment, it's possible that some of it might be preserved in a glassy component," said Jack Mustard, co-author of the new study. 'That makes this a pretty compelling place to go look around, and possibly return a sample."

The findings are published in the journal Geology.

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