Mars could have been more habitable than we previously believed!

Nupur Jha
Mars, space, nasa, water, life,

A latest research found that the ancient Mars was completely submerged in water and it might have once supported life.

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Martian meteorites were analysed by a cohort of researchers who found the presence of a mineral called -- whitlockite -- which could have originally been a mineral comprising of hydrogen. This point towards the fact the there was presence of more water on the Red Planet at a time.

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A synthetic version of the whitlockite mineral was created by the researchers. Shock-compression experiments were conducted on the mineral samples to recreate the condition when meteorites get shot out of the Red Planet into the space. It was then examined using the microscopic makeup with X-ray experiments with the best machinery.

"This is important for deducing how much water could have been on Mars, and whether the water was from Mars itself rather than comets or meteorites," Martin Kunz, a staff scientist at Berkeley Lab's ALS who participated in X-ray studies of the samples was quoted as saying by The Telegraph.

The whitlockite turned dehydrated and got transformed into a mineral called merrillite as an outcome of the shock-compression experiments. Merrillite is not found on Earth naturally, but it is present on Mars in abundance.

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"If even a part of merrillite had been whitlockite before, it changes the water budget of Mars dramatically," said Oliver Tschauner, a study co-lead Professor from the University of Nevada, The Telegraph reported.

Whitlockite is a water-soluble mineral which also contains the element phosphorous, which is a building block of life on Earth. This increases the probability of Mars being a habitable planet at some point of time.

"The overarching question here is about water on Mars and its early history on Mars: Had there ever been an environment that enabled a generation of life on Mars?" Prof Tschauner stated.

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In contrast to the meteorite impact, the temperature and pressure produced in the shock experiment prevailed just for 100 billionths of a second.

In this experiment, the lab-created conditions led to the partial transformation of whitlockite to merrillite, the same impact for a longer span of time could lead to a complete transformation. Maybe this is the reason why the Martian samples used by the researchers don't have any whitlockite in it.

"This latest study appears to be one of the first of its kind to detail the shock effects on synthetic whitlockite, which is rare on Earth," Prof Tschauner added, as per The Telegraph.

The samples of the synthetic whitlockite were blasted by the researchers using metal plates, which were discharged at the speed of around 2,700 kilometres per hour (1,678 miles per hour) with the help of a gas-pressurised gun at extremely high pressure in order to simulate the meteorite being ejected to space from the Red Planet.

Though there is proof about liquid water flowing on Mars today, there is no strong evidence of the planet supporting life so far.

"The only missing link now is to prove that merrillite had, in fact, really been Martian whitlockite before. We have to go back to the real meteorites and see if there had been traces of water," Prof Tschauner stated.

This study was published today on February 6, 2017 in the journal Nature.

Measuring Mars' Ancient Ocean:

YouTube/NASA Goddard

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