(Photo : Carl Agee)
A new study on a Martian meteorite revealed that the coal-colored rock is very different from other Martian meteorites and could provide vital information about the Red Planet. Tests on the meteorite, official name NWA 7034, showed that the fist-sized rock is not only older than most Martian meteorites found but it also contains more water, the Associated Press reported.
Carl Agee, director of University of New Mexico's Institute of Meteoritics, said, "Here we have a piece of Mars that I can hold in my hand. That's really exciting." Agee, who led the study on the meteorite, told UMN Today, "This meteorite is unlike anything I've ever seen before. It's a completely new type of Martian meteorite. It has everything in its composition that you'd want in order to further our understanding of the Red Planet."
"This unique Martian meteorite tells us that volcanism was like 2 billion years ago, but it also gives us a glimpse of ancient surface and environmental conditions on mars that no other meteorite has offered," he added.
In a phone interview with Latinos Post, Agee explained that he first acquired the meteorite from a U.S. meteorite collector, who in turn got it from a Moroccan meteorite dealer, back in August 2011. Agee said that the unique rock spent up to a month shelved because he understood that it would take work to truly understand its significance.
Agee and a group of researchers from around the country spent about a year conducting tests on the small meteorite, including tests to discover isotopic composition and to extract Martian water holed up within the meteorite.
According to the lead researcher, the meteorite, which has been dubbed "Black Beauty," was caused by a volcanic eruption on the Red Planet 2 billion years ago. It then mixed with water within the environment and held on to it until now, Agee explained. In order to extract the water, Agee and his team burned small particles in a tube beneath a vacuum and found water "that had been locked up for 2 billion years."
Agee added that future studies were needed to better understand the meteorite, which is the only closest match to surface samples brought back to Earth through NASA's Mars rover. He said he hopes to discover how long ago Black Beauty was ejected from Mars and how long it spent traveling in interplanetary space. Agee also hopes to find out how long the unique rock spent in the Sahara, where it was found.
The discovery of the new meteorite is a "great compliment" to the work done by NASA's Curiosity rover, Agee said. "It emphasizes the importance to ultimately go to Mars," he added. "Go collect samples and bring them back."