Mars meteorite Black Beauty expands time frame for potential life on the Red Planet

28. June 2018

Head of center Martin Bizzarro and Ph.D. student Laura C. Bouvier, from the Center for Star and Planet Formation (STARPLAN), are in charge of an international research team that has dated an early stage of crust formation on Mars with the help of a rare meteorite.

Professor Martin Bizzarro and Ph.D. student Laura C. Bouvier, from the center STARPLAN at the Natural History Museum of Denmark at Copenhagen University, led an international research team that has dated a surprisingly rapid and early formation of crust on Mars. The result moves the boundaries for potential life on the Red Planet and the study was recently published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature.

The foundation for this sensational study is a meteorite from Mars that was found in the Sahara Desert in 2011. The almost 320 grams rare Mars meteorite was named “Black Beauty,” and the discovery quickly proved to be special because the meteorite contained small pieces of Mars’ original solid crust.

Last year, head of center Martin Bizzarro was able to get 44 grams of the rare Mars meteorite, and using that, the researchers from STARPLAN found out that the fluid magma-ocean that constituted the early surface of Mars crystallized only 20 million years after the creation of our solar system. The crystallization gave the Red Planet a solid crust that could be a potential grounding for water and life. This was no less than 130 million years before the Earth developed a similar solid crust.

The rare presence of the mineral zircon and the chemical element hafnium in the meteorite from Mars enabled the researchers to precisely pinpoint the early crust formation on Mars, and thereby, they can expand the window for potential life on the planet.

“Zircon is a very solid mineral that is ideal for making such an absolute dating of time. In this regard, zircon can be used as a portal to pinpoint a time frame for the history of crust formation on Mars,” head of center Martin Bizzarro said to the University of Copenhagen.

He added: “Zircon also functions as a small time capsule because it obtains and saves information about the environment as well as when it was created. In this case a time capsule with hafnium, which comes from Mars’ early crust, which existed around 100 million years before the oldest zircon in Black Beauty was created. Thus, Mars got an early start in comparison with Earth, whose solid crust was created much later.”

Both the Earth and Mars are terrestrial planets characterized by their solid surface. Crust formation is essential for the development of terrestrial planets.

Read the scientific article in Nature here 

More information on the research result and STARPLAN can be found here

Further information on the meteorite Black Beauty can be found on Wikipedia here