Martian meteorite typical of the planet’s surface: dark, messy and beautiful

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  • Published: Feb 9, 2015
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: Infrared Spectroscopy / UV/Vis Spectroscopy
thumbnail image: Martian meteorite typical of the planet’s surface: dark, messy and beautiful

Martian meteorite NWA 7034, which was found in the desert in Morocco, is typical of the surface of Mars, unlike any other meteorite found on Earth so far. So says Kevin Cannon from Brown University and researchers from the University of New Mexico who looked at the meteorite in a different way to that normally used, as they described in Icarus.  

The meteorite, nicknamed Black Beauty because of its appearance, is unlike other Martian meteorites that found their way to Earth. They all originated from volcanic rock, whereas Black Beauty is a breccia that formed when different types of rock were welded together during impacts from space. Mars has an estimated 400,000 impact craters larger than 1 km in diameter, so impacts are common there.

The analysis by Cannon and Co. has shown that its composition matches that from measurements taken on Mars orbiters. This is a direct result of the technique: hyperspectral imaging in the visible-infrared regions. It analyses the whole sample, in a similar way that the orbiters observe large swathes of the surface of the so-called dark plains. Previous earthly measurements looked at "dime-sized spots" rather than the whole object.

"This is showing that if you went to Mars and picked up a chunk of crust, you'd expect it to be heavily beat up, battered, broken apart and put back together," Cannon said.

It had already been established by other scientists that Black Beauty came from Mars due to its chemical composition, and that it is the wettest Martian meteorite that we have seen to date, containing about 6 ppm water which is about ten times that found in other meteorites that have been examined.

Now, we know what the surface of Mars looks like under the coating of red dust. "Most samples from Mars are somewhat similar to spacecraft measurements but annoyingly different," said coauthor Jack Mustard. The bulk of the rocks on the surface of Mars were probably similar to the "dark, messy and beautiful" makeup of NWA 7034.

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