If we think untangling Earth’s complex geological history is difficult, think of the challenge involved in doing the same for Mars. At such a great distance, we rely on a few orbiters, a handful of rovers and landers, and our powerful telescopes to gather evidence. But unlike Earth, Mars is, for the most part, geologically inactive. Much of the evidence for Mars’ long history is still visible on the surface.
That helped scientists identify the source of one of our most well-known meteorites.
The NWA 7034 meteorite is about two billion years old and was found in the Sahara Desert in 2011. It’s probably the most well-known and most studied meteorite that we have. NWA 7034, also called Black Beauty, is our only sample of brecciated Martian rock. Brecciated rock is a sedimentary rock made of smaller pieces of rock with angular fragments that are held together with a matrix of fine-grained material. It contains different types of Martian rock cemented together, which makes it unique. All other Martian meteorites contain only one type of rock.
NWA 7034, aka ‘Black Beauty,’ is a unique Martian meteorite because it’s brecciated, meaning it contains multiple types of rock. Image Credit: By NASA – http://www.nasa.gov/images/content/716969main_black_beauty_full.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23571238
A team of researchers say they’ve identified Black Beauty’s origin on the surface of Mars. They presented their findings in a paper titled “Early crustal processes revealed by the ejection site of the oldest martian meteorite,” published in Nature Communications. The lead author is Dr. Anthony Lagain, from Curtin’s Space Science and Technology Centre in the School of Earth and Planetary Sciences.
“For the first time, we know the geological context of the only brecciated Martian sample available on Earth, 10 years before the NASA’s Mars Sample Return mission is set to send back samples collected by the Perseverance rover currently exploring the Jezero crater,” Dr. Lagain said.
Ask any geologist, and they’ll say that rocks tell the story of a planet’s history. That’s why we send missions to asteroids to return samples to Earth and why NASA and the ESA are planning a sample return mission to Mars to collect samples gathered by the Perseverance Rover. With sample return missions like those, we know exactly where the samples came from, which tells researchers a lot about the source body. But up until now, scientists haven’t known exactly where Black Beauty originated. The meteorite’s scientific value only increases now that we know what region of the Martian surface it came from.
This artist’s concept shows NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft descending toward asteroid Bennu to collect a sample of the asteroid’s surface. When we collect a sample, we know exactly where it comes
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