Tokyo: After analysing an ancient Martian meteorite, a team of Japanese researchers has revealed that water on the Red Planet originated some 4.4 billion years ago.
Several years ago, a pair of dark meteorites was discovered in the Sahara Desert. They were dubbed NWA 7034 and NWA 7533.
Analysis showed these meteorites are new types of Martian meteorites and are mixtures of different rock fragments.
Rocks like this are rare and can fetch up to $10,000 per gram.
Recently, 50 grams of NWA 7533 was acquired for analysis by the international team in which Professor Takashi Mikouchi at the University of Tokyo participated.
"Our samples of NWA 7533 were subjected to four different kinds of spectroscopic analysis, ways of detecting chemical fingerprints. The results led our team to draw some exciting conclusions," said Mikouchi in a paper published in the journal Science Advances.
It's well known to planetary scientists that there has been water on Mars for at least 3.7 billion years.
But from the mineral composition of the meteorite, Mikouchi and his team revealed that it is likely there was water present much earlier, at around 4.4 billion years ago.
"Igneous clasts, or fragmented rock, in the meteorite are formed from magma and are commonly caused by impacts and oxidation," said Mikouchi.
This oxidation could have occurred if there was water present on or in the Martian crust 4.4 billion years ago during an impact that melted part of the crust.
"Our analysis also suggests such an impact would have released a lot of hydrogen, which would have contributed to planetary warming at a time when Mars already had a thick insulating atmosphere of carbon dioxide".
If there was water on Mars earlier than thought, that suggests water is possibly a natural byproduct of some process early on in planet formation.
The finding could help researchers answer the question of where water comes from, which in turn could impact theories on the origins of life and the exploration for life beyond Earth.