Planet Mars Meteorite Reveals Secrets Of Martian Crust

By Staff Reporter on January 4, 2013 11:35 AM EST

NWA 7034
A slice of the 2.1-billion-year-old Martian meteorite found in the Sahara, officially known as NWA 7034 and nicknamed "Black Beauty." (Photo: Carl Agee / University of New )

Planet Earth has been next to Planet Mars in the Solar System for billions of years but we no very little at all about our neighbor.

Now, a study suggests that a recently-found Martian meteorite may provide us with some clues that might potentially reveal just how the Red Planet went from being warm and wet into a current cold and dry climate.

The meteorite was first discovered in Morocco in 2011 and was given the name NWA 7034. Despite the rather generic license plate name, scientists say this meteorite is rather unique and separates itself from other Martian stones.The meteorite was later nicknamed "Black Beauty."

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Researchers say the rock is of a previously unknown class. In fact, NWA 7034 contains 10 times the water content of any of the other 110 meteorites that fell over from Mars to Earth. This means that the meteorite is likely derived from Mars' surface rather than deeper inside. In the past, an incredible meteorite is caused by large asteroid impacts that kick up massive debris. By comparison, University of New Mexico planetary scientist Carl Agee claims the NWA 7034 offers the best representation of the surface of Mars.

Via carbon dating, researchers believe the meteorite was a piece of Mars that shot from the planet after a major volcanic eruption nearly 2.1 billion years ago. Once lava, it cooled and hardened on the surface of the planet. The cooling of the rock was aided by water, which left an imprint in the meteorite.

Apparently, the volcanic eruption represented a paradigm shift for the planet. Most meteorite samples collected on Earth are dated around 1.3 billion years ago while the oldest known stone was 4.5 billion years ago. The recently discovered NWA 7034 is the sweet spot between the two samples.

According to Agee, "I had never seen anything like it... Many scientists think that Mars was warm and wet in its early history, but the planet's climate changed over time." In the end, Mars lost its atmosphere and the lack of protection caused the planet to transform into a cold, dry desert.

Given how unique the stone was, how did Carl Agee determine it derived from Mars? First, it took Agee and his team six months to determine it wasn't a typical asteroid. Most asteroids are much older than 2.1 billion years and some are even as old as 4.5 billion years.

Agee explained, "We knew that it had to be from a planet." The meteorite couldn't have been from Mercury since its surface wasn't heat blasted by the sun. Venus didn't fit either as it's too dry to have water content.

That only leaves Mars as the only viable option. When Agee's sample revealed similar compositions as rocks analyzed by Mars rovers, the pieces of the puzzle began to fit together.

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