Could ancient Martian life be preserved in meteor impact glass?
Bits of organic material have been identified trapped inside rock that has melted and re-solidified following a meteor strike. Could Martian impact glass also show clues of life?
When large asteroids or comets strike the Earth â€” as they have countless times throughout ourÂ planetâ€™s history â€” the energy released in the eventÂ creates an enormous amount of heat, enough to briefly melt rock and soil at the impact site. That moltenÂ material quickly cools, trapping organic material and bits of plants and preserving them inside fragments of glass for tens of thousands, even millions of years.
Researchers studying impact debrisÂ on Earth think that the same thing could very well have happened on Mars, and that any evidence for ancient lifeÂ on the Red Planet might be foundÂ by looking insideÂ theÂ glass.
A research team led by Pete Schultz, a geologist atÂ Brown UniversityÂ in Providence, Rhode Island, has identifiedÂ the remains of plant materials trapped inside impact glass found at several different sites scattered across Argentina, according to a universityÂ news releaseÂ issued Friday, April 18.
MeltÂ brecciasÂ from twoÂ impact events in particular, dating back 3 and 9 million years, were discoveredÂ to contain very well-preserved fragments of vegetation â€” providing not only samples of ancient organisms but also snapshots of the local environment fromÂ the time of the events.
â€śThese glasses preserve plant morphology from macro features all the way down to the micron scale,â€ť said Schultz. â€śItâ€™s really remarkable.â€ť
Schultz believes that the same process that trapped once-living material in Argentinaâ€™sÂ PampasÂ region â€” which is covered with windblown, Mars-likeÂ sediment, especially in the west â€” may have occurred on Mars, preserving any early organics located at and around impact sites.
â€śImpact glass may be where the 4 billion-year-old signs of life are hiding,â€ť Schultz said. â€śOn Mars theyâ€™re probably not going to come out screaming in the form of a plant, but we may find traces of organic compounds, which would be really exciting.â€ť
The researchÂ has been published in the latest issue ofÂ Geology Magazine.
Source: Brown University
A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason Major writes about space exploration on his blogÂ Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, on Universe Today. Ad astra!
Originally posted in Universe Today.
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