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Mars meteorite ‘Black Beauty’ is full of water

Washington, Jan 5 (): NASA said on Thursday 2-billion-year-old dark lump of rock, a fist-sized Martian meteorite nicknamed “Black Beauty” that landed in Sahara desert and was found recently on Earth, may provide clues on evolution of Mars from its warm, wet past and its present cold and dry state.

This rock, which was discovered in 2011 in Morocco’s Sahara desert, was named NWA 7034. It is evidently dissimilar from other meteorites from Mars that scientists have studied on Earth.

NWA 7034 is made up of cemented remains of basalt, rock that forms from rapidly cooled lava. The fragments are primarily pyroxene and feldspar, most likely formed from volcanic activity. This unusual chemistry of the meteorite matches that of the Martian crust as measured by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers and Mars Odyssey Orbiter.

Nearly 65 Martian rocks have been recovered on Earth, mostly in Sahara or in Antarctica. The oldest rock dates back 4.5 billion years to a time when Mars was warmer and wetter. About half a dozen Martian meteorites are 1.3 billion years old and the rest are 600 million years or younger.

A team of US scientists have found the 320g (11oz) space rock contains 10 times more water than any of the 110 other known meteorites that have fallen to Earth from Mars and could be the first to have originated on the planet’s surface or crust. After intensively studying the rock for a year, they have found the meteorite formed 2.1 billion years ago during the beginning of the most recent geologic period on Mars, known as the Amazonian.

Carl Agee, lead study author and director of the Institute of Meteoritics at the University of New Mexico said this volcanic rock that was probably part of an eruption, interacted with water to the extent that some water got incorporated into the structure of the minerals.

Agee and colleagues extracted water from the meteorite by placing the meteorite in a vacuum-sealed tube and heating it up. Using a mass spectrometer, they were able to determine that the gas released from the heated meteorite was water vapour. And the abundance of water, at around 6000 parts per million, suggests that the meteorite interacted with the Martian surface about 2.1 billion years ago.

Experts said the new findings provide an unique close-up view about the surface of Mars and may help the scientists understand what NASA’s Opportunity and Curiosity rovers are seeing as they roam on the Martian surface.