Meteorite from Martian surface contains high amount of water

First Posted: Jan 03, 2013 06:21 PM EST

A small meteorite, found 2011 in the Sahara Desert, could be the first ever discovered from the Martian surface or crust. Researcher who analyzed it over the course of 2012 announced that it contains between 10 and 30 times more water than other Martian meteorites, that are from unknown origins.

It is thus a new class of meteorite, and was designated Northwest Africa (NWA) 7034, with the nickname "Black Beauty". After more than a year of intensive study, radioactive dating delivered the result that the 320 gram meteorite formed 2.1 billion years ago during the beginning of the most recent geologic period on Mars, known as the Amazonian.

It is likely that the meteorite comes from the Martian surface since its chemical composition is very similar to rocks recently analyzed by Mars rovers. NWA 7034 also closely matches the average composition of the Red Planet's crust as estimated by orbiting probes.

Researchers theorize the large amount of water contained in NWA 7034, 6000 parts of one million, may have originated from interaction of the rocks with water present in Mars' crust. The meteorite also has a different mixture of oxygen isotopes than has been found in other Martian meteorites, which could have resulted from interaction with the Martian atmosphere.

 NWA 7034's water-rich composition, the researchers contend, supports the assumption that Mars may have once had a much warmer and wetter surface than it has today.

"This Martian meteorite has everything in its composition that you'd want in order to further our understanding of the Red Planet," said Carl Agee, leader of the analysis team and director and curator at the University of New Mexico's Institute of Meteoritics in Albuquerque. "This unique meteorite tells us what volcanism was like on Mars 2 billion years ago. It also gives us a glimpse of ancient surface and environmental conditions on Mars that no other meteorite has ever offered." 

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