Life Unlikely: Meteorite From Mars Indicates Limited Water Circulation Late in the History of the Red Planet
A research team led by Lund University in Sweden has investigated a meteorite from Mars using neutron and X-ray tomography. In a cloud of smoke, NASA’s spacecraft Perseverance parachuted onto the dusty surface of Mars in February 2021. “Since water is central to the question of whether life ever existed on Mars, we wanted to investigate how much of the meteorite reacted with water when it was still part of the Mars bedrock,” explains Josefin Martell, geology doctoral student at Lund University.
To answer the question of whether there was any major hydrothermal system, which is generally a favorable environment for life to occur, the researchers used neutron and X-ray tomography. This means that if a mineral contains hydrogen, it is possible to study it in three dimensions and see where in the meteorite the hydrogen is located. “A more probable explanation is that the reaction took place after small accumulations of underground ice melted during a meteorite impact about 630 million years ago.
The researchers hope that the results of their study will be helpful when NASA brings back the first samples from Mars around 2030, and there are many reasons to believe that the current technology with neutron and X-ray tomography will be useful when this happens. “It would be fun if we had the opportunity to study these samples at the research facility European Spallation Source, ESS in Lund, which by then will be the world’s most powerful neutron source,” concludes Josefin Martell. Reference: “The scale of a martian hydrothermal system explored using combined neutron and x-ray tomography” by Josefin Martell, Carl Alwmark, Luke Daly, Stephen Hall, Sanna Alwmark, Robin Woracek, Johan Hektor, Lukas Helfen, Alessandro Tengattini and Martin Lee, 11 May 2022, Science Advances.
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