Feeds

Frozen Mars bars possibility of life

Or does it?

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

A chemical analysis of Martian meteorites has revealed that the red planet was probably freezing cold for the vast majority of its existence, casting doubt on theories that life could have had time to evolve on the planet.

Researchers from the California Institute of Technology (CIT) and the Berkeley Geochronology Center (BGC) said that the level of Argon present in the rocks could be used to deduce what kind of environment the meteorites had been exposed to. They concluded that the samples they examined could have been at temperatures above freezing for no more than a million years in the last 3.5bn years of history.

The research, to be published in the journal Science, is likely to provoke lively debate because, at first sight, the findings appear to contradict visual evidence that water flowed on the surface of the planet. The vast canyons, river beds and many other erosional features have been widely interpreted to mean that liquid water flowed on Mars for many years, possibly long enough for life to establish a foothold.

The authors of this new research say that if there was liquid water on the surface of Mars, it was only there for relatively short periods.

"Our research doesn't mean that there weren't pockets of isolated water in geothermal springs for long periods of time, but suggests instead that there haven't been large areas of free-standing water for four billion years," David Shuster of the California Institute of Technology told the BBC.

He and Benjamin Weiss of the Berkeley Geochronology Center examined two of the so-called nakhlite meteorites, and the famous ALH84001 meteorite, which made headlines when researchers though they had uncovered fossilised bacteria in the rock. They conducted two sets of tests: one to check for evidence of heating, and the other to develop a profile of the environment the rocks existed in before being ejected from Mars.

In the second test, the researchers estimated the amount of Argon present in the samples. Argon, a noble gas, is present in some rocks on Earth, and in meteorites, as a result of isotopes of potassium decaying. The gas escapes from the rocks at different rates, depending on the temperature, so the researchers can use it to put upper and lower limits on the kind of environment the rocks experienced.

In related news, NASA said yesterday that the launch window for its next mission to Mars will open on 10 August. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will examine the planet from a low orbit, and should provide what NASA describes as "unprecedented detail", possibly more data "than all previous missions combined". ®

Related stories

Germany backs ESA's mission to Mars
MARSIS is ready to go digging on Mars
Mars rover breaks free of sand trap

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
Cutting cancer rates: Data, models and a happy ending?
How surgery might be making cancer prognoses worse
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Brit balloon bod Bodnar overflies North Pole
B-64 amateur ultralight payload approaching second circumnavigation
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?