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Billion-year-old meteor could hold clues to Mars life

  |   May 2, 2013 at 2:58 PM
EAST LANSING, Mich., May 2 (UPI) -- A meteorite found on Earth but formed on Mars more than a billion years ago could reveal if the Red Planet was ever able to sustain life, a U.S. scientist says.

Geological sciences Professor Michael Velbel at Michigan State University says an examination of the meteorite could at least lay the groundwork for future researchers to answer the age-old question.

The problem, he said, is most meteorites formed on Mars fell to Earth so long ago they mostly exhibit characteristics of their life on Earth, obscuring any clues they might contain about their time on Mars.

"These meteorites contain water-related mineral and chemical signatures that can signify habitable conditions," Velbel said in an MSU release Wednesday. "The trouble is by the time most of these meteorites have been lying around on Earth they pick up signatures that look just like habitable environments, because they are. Earth, obviously, is habitable."

Velbel and his colleagues examined a tennis-ball sized meteor recovered in 2003 in the Miller Range of Antarctica.

They found mineral and chemical signatures on the meteor that indicate terrestrial weathering -- changes that took place on Earth -- and say identification of these kinds of changes will provide valuable clues as scientists examine the meteorites further.

"Our contribution is to provide additional depth and a little broader view than some work has done before in sorting out those two kinds of water-related alterations -- the ones that happened on Earth and the ones that happened on Mars," Velbel said. "If we could somehow prove the signature on the meteorite was from before it came to Earth, that would be telling us about Mars."

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