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Maybe Mars had 'warm' water after all

UK boffins point to meteorite evidence

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UK researchers have unearthed a new argument in the yes-but-no-but-yes scientific debate about Martian water, saying that meteorite samples suggest water on the red planet was once warm enough for life.

In research published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters (abstract here), Dr John Bridges (Leicester University) and Dr Susanne Schwenzer (Open University) say structures found in a group of meteorites of Martian origin called nakhlites.

“This group of Martian meteorites contains small veins, which are filled with minerals formed by the action of water near the surface of Mars,” Dr Bridges says.

Examination of the “Lafayette nakhlite”, Dr Bridges says, reveals carbonates which would have formed by water rich in carbon dioxide at around 150°C, which later cooled to 50°C, at which point clays formed.

The structures in the nakhlites may have been caused by heat resulting from an impact on the surface of the planet, Dr Bridges states.

The Open University conducted modelling based on Dr Bridges’ observations, and these models suggest that subsurface water had both the right temperatures and nutrients to support microbial life. As the abstract states (in a lot more words):

“Our results show that environments associated with this type of fluid were habitable, unlike those associated with acid-sulphate fluids. Considering the timing of the nakhlite alteration, the most likely cause is impact-generated hydrothermal alteration of the nakhlite pile at the margins of an impact crater. The martian subsurface fluid forming phyllosilicates provided habitable temperatures and many of the nutrients required for life.” ®

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