Large arrays of impact glass have been discovered on the surface of Mars, underlining the possibility of finding ancient alien life on the planet.
The discovery was made possible due to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter launched by NASA. The Orbiter transmitted data that was consistent with impact glass being found on large surfaces of impact craters.
The heat synthesized glass must have appeared, as in the case of Earth, when large asteroids hit Mars millions of years ago. If there had been any life on the planet at the time, there is a great chance that some of it was preserved in the impact glass.
Previous research on the impact glass found on Earth has been successful to this extent. Researcher Peter Schultz is one of those who have done pioneering work in the field and brought to light ancient flora beautifully preserved in the impact glass for millions of years since its formation.
Drawing on Schultz’s findings, researchers Kevin Cannon in collaboration with Jack Mustard took the idea one step further and looked for a similar environment on Mars.
No previous work had been done in the area, so the researchers’ endeavour was not an easy task. Initially, the team started off by measuring the light spectrum from the reflections beaming from Mars’s surface. Impact glass however does not have a very specific signature in this manner.
Jack Mustard reported:
“Glasses tend to be spectrally bland or weakly expressive, so signature from the glass tends to be overwhelmed by the chunks of rock mixed in with it. But Kevin found a way to tease that signal out.”
The solution that Cannon found was to create similar glass to that found in the red planet’s craters. So he mixed powders that have a similar chemical composition to the rocks found on Mars and placed them in an oven to obtain the glass.
Following, the reflection signature of the oven-created glass was compared with similar signals coming from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The specific unit from which the data was drawn id the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectometer for Mars, or CRISM. Kevin Cannon is the deputy principal investigator here.
Thus, the impact glass surfaces were geographically pinpointed in central peaks of ancient craters mostly. One of the largest surfaces of impact glass is located near the Nili Fossae trough.
The crater is named Hargraves and its location near the Nili Fossae which has already captured scientists’ attention is fairly exciting news as one of the locations where the 2020 Mars Rover mission will hover.
Nili Fossae has already incited expectations as it is thought to be around since the period when Mars was allegedly a wetter planet. The hydrothermal fractures featuring in the Nili Fossae are a clear indication of this fact.
Perhaps, with the upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission, samples of the newly found impact glass will help shed more light on the questions of alien life.
The results of the Cannon and Mustard study are published in the journal Geology.
Image Source: rt.com