Until now, a specific mineral found in Martian meteorites was used as proof that the planet had an ancient, dry environment, but scientists now say it might have contained hydrogen.
Previously, researchers believed that the mineral might have hinted at an ancient, dry Mars - but researchers at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) believe that it may have formed from another mineral (whitlockite) during the shock of ejection from Mars.
The researchers found that up to 36 percent of the synthetic whitlockite was converted to merrillite at the plate-sample interface.
As a member of the whitlockite group that is commonly found in Lunar and Martian meteorities, this mineral is known for being anhydrous (i.e. containing no water). The conversion is thought to be caused by the asteroid impacts that blasted the Red Planet rocks toward Earth. Using a synthetic version of whitlockite, they began conducting shock compression experiments on it created to simulate the conditions under which meteorites are ejected from Mars.
They found that shocked whitlockite dehydrates and turns into - merrillite. "If even a part of merrillite had been whitlockite before, it changes the water budget of Mars dramatically", said Oliver Tschauner, a professor who co-led the study with Christopher Adcock.
Whitlockite also contains phosphorous, an essential element for life on Earth. For this scientists have even considered injecting greenhouse gasses which are warm to the atmosphere of the Red Planet, revealed Tech Times.
For the sake of their study - titled "Shock-Transformation of Whitlockite to Merrillite and the Implications for Meteoritic Phosphate", which appeared recently in the journal Nature Communications - the global research team considered another possibility. But if the tests created even partial conversion to merrillite, a real impact would likely have produced "almost full conversion" to merrillite, Tschauner said. For example, we now know that while the Red Planet appears barren and lifeless, it previously held liquid water on its surface. And last November, NASA reported a huge underground body of water ice on Mars, in one area.
"The only missing link now is to prove that [merrillite] had, in fact, really been Martian whitlockite before", Tschauner added. In 2013, scientists announced that streaks on the planet's surface appear to be caused by flowing water, and late past year researchers said that they had found a huge underground body of water ice on the planet.
How does one identify a meteorite from Mars, anyway? As suggested by the study, the previous hypothesis and narration about water and life on Mars's surface might be completely mistaken. Scientists have thought of launching a plastic magnetic shield into the space that will help to protect Mars from the solar winds, and thereby foster life on Mars.