NASA Discovers Glass on Mars that May Hold Ancient Life

Thursday, 11 June 2015 - 1:58PM
Space
Mars
Alien Life
Thursday, 11 June 2015 - 1:58PM
NASA Discovers Glass on Mars that May Hold Ancient Life
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has just found evidence of glass deposits in impact craters on Mars. This is a notable discovery in itself, but it could lead to even bigger and better things, as these glassy deposits may preserve signs of life at the time of the impact.

Over the past few years, researchers from Brown University have been studying impact craters on Earth with the hopes of discovering signs of ancient life. Last year, a study led by Brown's Peter Schultz found that glass formed by an impact millions of years ago preserved plant matter and other organic molecules within the deposits. Now, a new study published in Geology by Schultz's colleagues, Kevin Cannon and Jack Mustard, builds on this research and details evidence for similar glassy deposits on Mars. 

"The work done by Pete and others showed us that glasses are potentially important for preserving biosignatures," Cannon said in a NASA statement. "Knowing that, we wanted to go look for them on Mars and that's what we did here. Before this paper, no one had been able to definitively detect them on the surface."

In order to find the deposits on Mars, the researchers detected the spectra of light reflected from Mars's surface around the impact craters. They then compared the spectra of light reflected from laboratory-made glass deposits in rocks with a similar composition to Martian rocks with the data recorded by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

"The researchers' analysis suggests glass deposits are relatively common impact features on Mars," said NASA's Jim Green. "These areas could be targets for future exploration as our robotic scientific explorers pave the way on the journey to Mars with humans in the 2030s."

This study is especially significant because one of the impact craters is near the Nili Fossae trough, a 400-mile-long depression that is thought to date back to when Mars was largely covered by an ocean. As a result, the glass deposits in this impact crater may have preserved signs of ancient Martian life that thrived when Mars was rife with liquid water.

"If you had an impact that dug in and sampled that subsurface environment, it's possible that some of it might be preserved in a glassy component," Mustard said. "That makes this a pretty compelling place to go look around, and possibly return a sample."
Science
NASA
Space
Mars
Alien Life
NASA Discovers Glass on Mars that May Hold Ancient Life

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