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Black Beauty Meteorite Studied for Clues to History of Mars

Image: Black Beauty Meteorite Studied for Clues to History of Mars

By Morgan Chilson   |   Thursday, 21 Nov 2013 04:27 PM

A meteorite from Mars, called the Black Beauty, is revealing the history of that planet through particles that may be as old as 4.4 billion years.

Black Beauty was found in northern Africa and zircon crystals in it are ancient and may have been part of Mars' crust, scientists told CNN.

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“It’s just pressing its nose against the creation of Mars,” Florida State University professor Munir Humayun, who will publish a study of the rock in the journal Nature, told CNN.

Another scientist who has studied the meteorite told CNN that it's different from other Martian meteorites. “If I were going to start looking (for evidence of past Martian life),” Carl Agee said, “this would be the first place I would go, to this meteorite, because it is a sample from the surface.”

The meteorite has 10 to 30 times more water than other meteorites from Mars that have been discovered, Agee told CNN.

Initially, the glossy black meteorite was estimated to be just 2 billion years old. But looking at all aspects found the zircon crystals, which pushed the estimate to 4.4 billion.

Humayun told the BBC that he and others would be studying the rock for any any glimpses of past life, but that it probably had living organisms in it in the desert, which would make it difficult to tell.

“The crust of Mars must have differentiated really quickly, rather than gradually over time. There was a big volcanic episode all over the surface, which then crusted up, and after that the volcanism dropped dramatically,” Humayun told BBC. “When it did this it also must have out-gassed water, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and other gases to produce a primordial atmosphere ... and also a primordial ocean."

Black Beauty’s interesting history didn’t stop when it left Mars, CNN said. In Northwest Africa, nomads wander through the desert to find rocks and fossils to sell. Agee looked at the rock, bought by a private collector, and wasn’t even sure it was a meteorite. Then he cut into it and there was no doubt it was an unusual specimen.

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