NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter recently found a glass deposit on Mars, strongly suggesting that the red planet once hosted life.
There are several scientific theories that are trying to explain why we haven’t encountered any alien life forms yet. One of the most popular ones is that planets host life forms at different moments in time, quite possibly millions or billions of years apart. The newly discovered impact glass, found in a crater, seems to support it as it may be hiding proof of past life on Mars.
Earth scientist have already shown in recent years that impact glass holds proof of past life on our own planet, so NASA researchers believe that the same could hold true for the impact glass discovered on Mars. Peter Schultz, Earth scientist at Brown University, showed that the organic molecules can be traced millions of years into the past.
Impact glass is formed from heat when a meteorite hits the surface of a planet. The material around the point of impact can be sealed in glass. It is because of this knowledge that scientists wanted to go look for the Martian glass deposit. Kevin Cannon, co-author of the study PhD student at Brown University, informs that this is the first time ever that impact glass has been detected on the surface of the red planet.
Jack Mustard, co-author and professor at Brown University, gave a statement fully explaining what motivated the duo: “If you had an impact that dug in and sampled that subsurface environment, it’s possible that some of it might be preserved in a glassy component. That makes this a pretty compelling place to go look around, and possibly return a sample”.
Another compelling reason was that part of the impact glass was found in a crater called Hargraves. It’s an area with rich supplies of hydrothermal fractures, a type of vents that researchers believe might have supported life right below the Martian surface.
The glass deposits are not limited to a single place either, as professor Mustard stresses that the duo has found impact glass in multiple ancient crates across the red planet’s surface.
Even though physical samples have not been collected yet, the researchers have been able to remotely search for specific minerals and rock types by measuring the spectra of light reflected by Martian surface.
It has not necessarily been the easiest thing to do. Mustard reveals that glasses have the habit of being spectrally bland or weakly expressive. As a direct result of this, signatures from the glass are fairly hard to get as they are typically overwhelmed by the pieces of rock that are mixed with it.
In order to overcome this obstacle, Cannon took powders that had a similar composition ti that of Martian rocks and mixed them together. He then fired them in an oven, imitating heat from a meteorite hit, and formed glass. The next step was to measure the glass’ spectral signal and create an algorithm that looked for similar signals in the glass deposits found on Mars.
Both Cannon and Mustard have said that Peter Schultz’ research has been of great help to them.
Image Source: nasa.gov