Researchers from the University of Glasgow say trace amounts of opal gemstones found within a Martian meteorite could contain evidence of ancient life on Mars.
The meteorite, known as Nakhla, was blasted off the surface of Mars millions of years ago.
What’s so important about opal? This type is most often found in or near hot springs. And where there is water, there is life. Microbial life thrives in a hot spring environment and has been known to become preserved in opal deposits.
The discovery “confirms findings from NASA’s imaging and exploration of the Martian surface which appeared to show deposits of opal,” according to Professor Martin Lee, lead author of the paper.
Researchers used a scanning electron microscope to detect faint traces of opal.
“This is the first time that a piece of Mars here on Earth has been shown to contain opal,” Lee adds.
Similar to amber, opal can preserve microbes for millions of years.
Future missions to Mars could focus on opal to determine if Mars ever had life in its past.
Wait, a Martian meteorite hit Earth?
Yep. On June 28, 1911 a meteorite landed near Nakhla, Egypt. Actually, about 40 pieces hit the ground. All total, the meteorite weighed 22 pounds.
How does a piece of Mars make it to Earth? If a comet or asteroid hits Mars with enough force, a rock from Mars can achieve escape velocity.
Theories for the Martian origin revolved around similar compositions between the meteorites on Earth and Mars’ atmosphere and rocks.
NASA confirmed this theory in 2013. NASA reported, “a key new measurement of the inert gas argon in Mars’ atmosphere by Curiosity’s laboratory provides the most definitive evidence yet of the origin of Mars meteorites while at the same time providing a way to rule out Martian origin of other meteorites.”
Image credits: NASA