The solid crust of Mars formed very quickly after the birth of the solar system, according to a recently published study said that suggests that the conditions necessary for the emergence of life could have appeared very early on the red planet.
To have liquid water on a planet, you need a solid surface and therefore a crust. “Our results indicate that Mars may have had oceans and potentially life well before Earth,” says Martin Bizzarro of the Danish Museum of Natural History in Copenhagen, co-author of the study published in Nature.
To reach this conclusion, the researchers used a Martian meteorite, NWA 7034, found in the Sahara desert and nicknamed Black Beauty. Seven precious grains of zircon, a robust mineral that survives the different geological processes, were extracted from a tiny sample of this meteorite and then analyzed by a team of researchers who dated their crystallization.
“We were able to conclude that the crystallization of the surface of Mars has been extremely rapid: only 20 million years after the formation of the solar system – which occurred 4,567 billion years ago – Mars was endowed of a solid crust, potentially capable of harboring oceans and perhaps also life,” according to Martin Bizzarro.
Life on Mars
These results contrast with “the current models according to which the solidification of the planet would have taken up to 100 million years,” he says. “This new data greatly expands the window of time that life is likely to have existed on Mars.”
The researchers point out that they have discovered the oldest Martian zircons, which are “about 100 million years older than the oldest terrestrial zircons” (4,370 billion years ago).
The discovery in 2011 of Black Beauty, which initially weighed 319.8 grams, aroused a strong scientific interest. One gram was selling for 10,000 euros, says Martin Bizzarro.
The Museum of Natural History in Denmark has acquired 44 grams, thanks to various supports. Five of these grams were crushed to extract the seven zircons from the study.