Older Martian Meteorite Found in Sahara Contains More Water Than Most

Friday, 04 Jan 2013 06:05 PM

By Michael Mullins

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A 2-billion-year-old Martian meteorite recovered from the Sahara Desert was found to contain more water than most other red planet meteorites discovered thus far.

A yearlong analysis of the baseball-sized rock was released on Thursday, via Science Magazine.

Scientists concluded the coal-colored meteorite nicknamed "Black Beauty" was very similar to the volcanic rocks examined by the NASA rovers Spirit and Opportunity on the Martian surface, where water-bearing minerals were found.

"Here we have a piece of Mars that I can hold in my hands. That's really exciting," said Carl Agee, director of the Institute of Meteoritics and curator at the University of New Mexico, who led the study.

Most space rocks recovered on Earth originate from the solar system's asteroid belt. There are believed to be approximately 100 Martian meteorites in private collections around the world.

The majority of Martian meteorites have so far been found in Antarctica or the Sahara, and can be worth tens of thousands of dollars. Though most are found by chance, according to The Independent, there are meteorite hunters who trade the rare rocks in a global market.

"Black Beauty," formally named Northwest Africa (NWA) 7034, was donated to the University of New Mexico by an American who bought it from a Moroccan meteorite dealer last year.

The rock, which weighed in just under one pound, was believed to have been dislodged from the Martian surface by an asteroid or another large object that struck it many years ago and sent it into the earth's atmosphere.

Having been formed from a volcanic eruption some 2.1 billion years ago, "Black Beauty" is the second-oldest known Martian meteorite. Like the oldest known meteorite, a 4.5-billion-year-old rock, scientists believe it was formed when Mars was a warmer and wetter planet. Mars is currently a frigid desert.

Six of the remaining Martian meteorites are believed to be about 1.3 billion years in age, while the vast majority are thought to be 600 million years or younger.

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