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New Martian Meteorite from Sahara Desert Contains 10 Times More Water than Others

Jan 06, 2013 05:25 AM EST

A detailed analysis of a Martian meteorite, found in the Sahara desert in 2011, has revealed that it contains water 10 times more than other Martian meteorites.

A team of U.S. scientists carried out a year-long study on the baseball-sized meteorite, dubbed Northwest Africa (NWA) 7034, and determined that it was formed 2.1 billion years ago, at the beginning of the Amazonian epoch on Mars. This was the period when Mars was believed to have been dry and dusty.

NWA 7034 (nicknamed as "Black Beauty") is the second-oldest known Martian meteorite formed by volcanic activity. The oldest Martian rock dates back to 4.5 billion years when Mars was warmer and wetter, reports The Associated Press.

Scientists found that the Martian meteorite is made of cemented fragments of basalt and rock that forms from rapidly cooled lava.

NWA 7034, which weighs around 11 ounces (320 grams), is believed to be the first meteorite originating from the Martian crust. The chemistry of the meteorite matches with that of the Martian crust, unlike the other meteorites that are believed to have originated from Mars. But recent studies show they are a mismatch of the Martian crust.

Most of the Martian meteorites found so far are categorized under three different types of meteorites - Shergotty, Nakhla and Chassigny. NWA 7034 is quite different from these "SNC" meteorites and possesses unique characteristics. For example, the texture of NWA 7034 is different from the "SNC" meteorites. The mixture of oxygen isotopes in NWA 7034 does not match with "SNC" meteorites.

"This Martian meteorite [NWA 7034] has everything in its composition that you'd want in order to further our understanding of the Red Planet," Carl Agee, leader of the analysis team and director and curator at the University of New Mexico's Institute of Meteoritics in Albuquerque, said in a statement.

"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."

NWA 7034 also has water content that is 10 times more than other Martian meteorites. Researchers suggest that the large amount of water in the "Black Beauty" may have originated from interaction of the rocks with water present in the crust of Mars.

The findings of the study are published in Thursday's (Jan. 3, 2013) edition of Science Express.

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