Space

January 4, 2013

Researchers identify water rich meteorite linked to Mars crust

Designated Northwest Africa 7034, and nicknamed “Black Beauty,” the Martian meteorite weighs approximately 11 ounces.

NASA-funded researchers analyzing a small meteorite that may be the first discovered from the Martian surface or crust have found it contains 10 times more water than other Martian meteorites from unknown origins.

This new class of meteorite was found in 2011 in the Sahara Desert. Designated Northwest Africa 7034, and nicknamed “Black Beauty,” it weighs approximately 11 ounces. After more than a year of intensive study, a team of U.S. scientists determined the meteorite formed 2.1 billion years ago during the beginning of the most recent geologic period on Mars, known as the Amazonian.

“The age of NWA 7034 is important because it is significantly older than most other Martian meteorites,” said Mitch Schulte, program scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We now have insight into a piece of Mars’ history at a critical time in its evolution.”

The meteorite is an excellent match for surface rocks and outcrops NASA has studied remotely via Mars rovers and Mars-orbiting satellites. NWA 7034’s composition is different from any previously studied Martian meteorite. The research is published in Thursday’s edition of Science Express.

“The contents of this meteorite may challenge many long held notions about Martian geology,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “These findings also present an important reference frame for the Curiosity rover as it searches for reduced organics in the minerals exposed in the bedrock of Gale Crater.”

NWA 7034 is made of cemented fragments of basalt, rock that forms from rapidly cooled lava. The fragments are primarily feldspar and pyroxene, most likely from volcanic activity. This unusual meteorite’s chemistry matches that of the Martian crust as measured by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers and Mars Odyssey Orbiter.

“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.”

The research team included groups at the University of California at San Diego and the Carnegie Institution in Washington. Experiments were conducted to analyze mineral and chemical composition, age, and water content.

Researchers theorize the large amount of water contained in NWA 7034 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.

Most Martian meteorites are divided into three rock types, named after three meteorites; Shergotty, Nakhla, and Chassigny. These “SNC” meteorites currently number about 110. Their point of origin on Mars is not known and recent data from lander and orbiter missions suggest they are a mismatch for the Martian crust. Although NWA 7034 has similarities to the SNC meteorites, including the presence of

macromolecular organic carbon, this new meteorite has many unique characteristics.

“The texture of the NWA meteorite is not like any of the SNC meteorites,” said co-author Andrew Steele, who led the carbon analysis at the Carnegie Institution’s Geophysical Laboratory. “This is an exciting measurement in Mars and planetary science. We now have more context than ever before to understanding where they may come from.”

The research was funded by NASA’s Cosmochemistry Program and Astrobiology Institute, part of the Planetary Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. The research also was supported by the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium in Las Cruces, and the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Va.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
NASA/JPL photograph

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft captures best-ever view of dwarf planet

Zoomed out – PIA19173 Ceres appears sharper than ever at 43 pixels across, a higher resolution than images of Ceres taken by the NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in 2003 and 2004. NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has retur...
 
 
ATK

ATK completes installation of world’s largest solid rocket motor for ground test

ATK The first qualification motor for NASA’s Space Launch Systems booster is installed in ATK’s test stand in Utah – ready for a March 11 static-fire test. NASA and ATK have completed installing the first Spac...
 
 
ULA photograph

Third Lockheed Martin-built MUOS satellite launched, responding to commands

ULA photograph The U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing successfully launched the third Mobile User Objective System satellite, built by Lockheed Martin, for the U.S. Navy at 8:04 p.m. Jan. 20, 2015, from Launch Complex 41 at...
 

 
ULA photograph

ULA successfully launches Navy’s Mobile User Objective System-3

ULA photograph The U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing successfully launched the third Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellite, built by Lockheed Martin, for the U.S. Navy at 8:04 p.m. Jan. 20, 2015, from Launch Comple...
 
 

Aerojet Rocketdyne Propulsion supports launch, flight of third MUOS satellite

Aerojet Rocketdyne played a critical role in successfully placing the third of five planned Mobile User Objective System (MUOS-3) satellites, designed and built by Lockheed Martin, into orbit for the U.S. Navy. The mission was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, with five Aerojet...
 
 
LM-MUOS-satellite

U.S. Navy poised to Launch Lockheed Martin-built MUOS-3 satellite

The U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin are ready to launch the third Mobile User Objective System satellite, MUOS-3, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Jan. 20 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. The launch win...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>