Mars may have been flooded with huge water resources than previously thought, said research based on simulation of Martian meteorites at the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).
Scientists at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), found evidence that a mineral found in Martian meteorites may have originally been a hydrogen-containing mineral that could indicate a more water-rich history on the Red Planet after creating a synthetic version of a hydrogen-containing mineral known as whitlockite.
The X-ray experiments showed that whitlockite can become dehydrated from such shocks, forming merrillite, a mineral that is commonly found in Martian meteorites but does not occur naturally on Earth.
"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," said Martin Kunz, a staff scientist at Berkeley Lab.
Oliver Tschauner, a professor of research in the Department of Geoscience at UNLV who co-led the study with Christopher Adcock, echoed similar view. "If even a part of merrillite had been whitlockite before, it changes the water budget of Mars dramatically," he said.
There is also evidence that liquid water flows on Mars today but there is no scientific proof that life has ever existed on Mars. In 2013, planetary scientists reported that darkish streaks that appear on Martian slopes depicting periodic flows of water.
In November 2016, NASA scientists reported that a large underground body of water ice on Mars containing the equivalent of all of the water in Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes. Rover explorations too have also found evidence of the former abundance of water based on analysis of surface rocks.
"The only missing link now is to prove that (merrillite) had, in fact, really been Martian whitlockite before," Tschauner said. "We have to go back to the real meteorites and see if there had been traces of water."
Many Martian meteorites found on Earth seem to come from a period of about 150 million to 586 million years ago, and most are likely from the same region of Mars. Even with more detailed studies of Martian meteorites coupled with thermal imaging of Mars taken from orbiters, and rock samples analyzed by rovers traversing the planet’s surface, the best evidence of Mars’ water history would be an actual Martian rock taken from the planet and transported back to Earth, intact, for detailed studies, researchers noted.
The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.
This mosaic of images from the Curiosity rover’s Mast Camera shows evidence of ancient lake and stream deposits on Mars.(Credit: NASA JPL-Caltech, MSSS)