Scientists Say Strange 'Meridianiite' Crystals Have Finally Solved the Mystery of Mars' Missing Oceans and Alien Life
How do you lose an ocean? How does an entire alien civiliization go extinct?
These are questions that have baffled scientists for a while now. Down on the Martian surface, there appears to be evidence that, once upon a time, the planet was hot and humid, with a large, temperate ocean that could have potentially sustained alien life.
Now, Mars is barren—almost entirely dry, save for some ice that's buried underground, and some bizarre crystals called Meridianiite (named for the planet's meridian, where the mineral was first discovered).
In an effort to better understand what happened to Mars to make its oceans disappear, scientists at the Diamond Light Source (DLS) synchrotron facility in the UK have been able to synthesize Meridianite for the first time, using a high powered laser, so that we're better able to get a glimpse at what rocks and minerals would have sat at the bottom of the Martian ocean back before it all dried up.
Meridianiite is a very interesting mineral, and this experiment may have revealed some important information about Mars' oceans. As it turns out, some of the water hasn't actually left the planet's surface after all.
According to Stephen Thompson, senior beamline scientist at DLS:
Considering the density of water molecules within Meridianiite, this is solid evidence that Mars did once have a lot of surface water. Considering that not all scientists are convinced that Mars ever had flowing water on its surface, this feels like a success. Meridianiite melts at temperatures above 2 degrees Celsius (35 degrees Fahrenheit), just above the melting point of water ice, so it's logical that a slightly warmer Mars would experience liquid water flow as a result.
But what about the big question? Does the presence of Meridianiite indicate that there might have once been life on the Red Planet?
According to Thompson:
It seems that Mars could well have once been the perfect place for life to form, after all. That said, it remains to be seen whether this potential actually ever yielded living creatures—at present, there's still no proof that Martians have ever existed on the planet's surface.
If anything, the most promising place to be looking for aliens at the moment is deep under the Martian ground, especially considering how inhospitable the planet's surface can be.
One day, we might finally be able to track down life on the giant red rock closest to our own planet. Either way, the creation of Meridianiite should hopefully help us to better understand what the Red Planet was like back when it was a little more drippy.