Meteorites discover the history of water on Mars

Researchers from the University of Arizona analyzed Martian meteorites Black Beauty and Allan Hills 84001 and based on them reconstructed the history of water on Mars and the history of the planet itself.

Research results, published today in the journal Nature Geoscience , indicate that Mars probably received water from two completely different sources at an early stage in the formation of the planet. The differences between these two sources indicate that Mars, unlike Earth and Moon, has never been completely covered by an ocean of magma.

Both sources of water in the interior of Mars can tell us something about the objects that formed the inner, rocky planets of the Solar System - says Jessica Barnes, assistant professor of planetology at Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.

Mars could have arisen, among others from two different planetozymals with a completely different water content that never completely mixed together. This is important information for all scientists trying to find out if life could have existed on the surface of Mars in the past.

What can you learn from water?

Many scientists have tried to find out anything about the history of water on Mars. Where did it come from? How long was it in Mars' crust? Where did the water inside Mars come from? What can it tell us about the evolution of the planet?

Jessica Barnes and her team analyzed the history of water on Mars by analyzing individual isotopes of hydrogen. Hydrogen-1 (prot) contains one proton in its nucleus. The deuterium nucleus, on the other hand, consists of one proton and one neutron. The ratio of the abundance of these two isotopes of hydrogen tells planetary scientists a lot about the processes and possible origin of water in rocks, minerals and silicates.

For over 20 years, scientists have been analyzing the ratio of isotope abundance in Martian meteorites. Although the results of this research are spread all over the world, a certain trend is slowly beginning to clarify.

Water trapped in rocks on Earth is unfractionated, i.e. its isotope ratio does not differ from the standard value for ocean water - the ratio of prot to deuterium is 1: 6420. In the atmosphere of Mars, the water is strongly fractionated - most of it is deuterium, heavy hydrogen, because the solar wind has blown most of the light hydrogen into space.

Researchers decided to study the abundance of hydrogen isotopes in the Mars crust. To this end, they focused on Black Beauty and Allan Hills meteorites, of which the former was particularly interesting because it is a cluster of matter from various stages of Mars's history.

Thanks to this, we learned how the crust of Mars has changed over several billion years, "says Barnes.

In meteorite samples, the ratio of isotope abundance was at the level between Earth's rocks and the atmosphere of Mars. When the results obtained were compared with earlier studies, including those carried out with the use of the Curiosity rover, it turned out that for more than 4 billion years of Mars's history nothing has changed.

We began to wonder if this is not weird. How is Mars's atmosphere fractionating, and the crust remains the same for billions of years, "says Barnes. What's more, we began to wonder why the planet's crust differed from the mantle, the layer just below it. If we try to explain the constant isotope ratio of the Mars crust, then the atmosphere will not help us. We know, however, that planetary crusts are formed from molten rocks from within that have solidified on the surface.

Initially, scientists assumed that the interior of Mars is more similar to Earth and unfractionated.

This may mean that the variation in the ratio of hydrogen isotopes in the samples is due either to impurities formed on Earth, or is the result of the impact of the atmosphere when rocks are thrown from the surface of Mars into space.

The thesis that the interior of Mars resembles Earthly is the result of research on one of the Martian meteorites, which most likely comes from the planet's mantle - the layer between the nucleus and the crust of Mars. It is worth noting, however, that various Martian meteorites differ significantly from each other.

By analyzing the scientific literature and available data, the researchers identified two types of Martian volcanic rocks - enriched sherotees and depleted sherothotes (the name comes from the first Martian meteorite Shergotty found in India) - differing from each other by isotope ratios of hydrogen. Enriched szergotites contain more deuterium than depleted ones, which are more similar to terrestrial rocks.

It turns out that when we mix different proportions of hydrogen isotopes from these two types of szergotyt, we get the value we have in the crust of Mars - says Barnes.

Scientists believe that theergergites contain the signatures of two different hydrogen tanks - and thus water - inside Mars. Significant differences, among other things, indicate that there was more than one source of water on Mars, and that there was never a global ocean of magma on the surface of the planet.



Meteorites discover the history of water on Mars

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