A research team led by Lund University in Sweden has investigated a meteorite from Mars using neutron and X-ray tomography. The technology, which will probably be used when NASA examines samples from the Red Planet in 2030, showed that meteorite had limited exposure to water, thus making life at that particular time and place unlikely.
In a cloud of smoke, NASA’s spacecraft Perseverance parachuted onto the dusty surface of Mars in February 2021. For several years, the vehicle will skid around and take samples to try to answer the question posed by David Bowie in Life on Mars in 1971. It It is not until around 2030 that Nasa actually intends to send samples back to Earth, but material from Mars is already being studied – in the form of meteorites. In a new study published Science Advancesan international research team has studied an approximately 1.3 billion-year-old meteorite using advanced scanning.
“Since water is central to the question of whether life ever existed on Mars, we wanted to investigate how much of the meteorite reacted with water when it was still part of the Mars bedrock,” explains Josefin Martell, geology doctoral student at Lund University.
To answer the question of whether there was any major hydrothermal system, which is generally a conducive environment for life, the researchers used neutron and X-ray tomography. X-ray tomography is a common method of examining an object without damaging it. Neutron tomography was used because neutrons are very sensitive to hydrogen.
This means that if a mineral contains hydrogen, it is possible to study it in three dimensions and see where the meteorite the hydrogen is located. Hydrogen (H) is always of interest when scientists study material from Mars, because water (H2O) is a prerequisite for life as we know it. The results show that a fairly small part of the sample seems to have reacted with water, and that it was probably not a large hydrothermal system that gave rise to the alteration.
“A more plausible explanation is that the reaction took place after small accumulations of underground ice melted during a meteorite impact about 630 million years ago. Of course, that does not mean that life does not exist in other places on Mars, or That has not been there at other times in life, “says Josefin Martell.
The researchers hope that their results will be helpful when NASA brings back the first samples from Mars around 2030, and there are many reasons to believe that current technology with neutron and X-ray tomography will be useful when this happens.
“It would be fun if we had the opportunity to study these samples at a research facility at the European Spallation Source, ESS in Lund, which would then be the world’s most powerful neutron source,” concludes Josefin Martell.
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