NASA Spacecraft ‘MRO’ Detects Impact Glass On Surface Of Mars

By  //  June 9, 2015

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NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has detected deposits of glass within impact craters on Mars. (NASA Image)

NASA – NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has detected deposits of glass within impact craters on Mars.

 

Though formed in the searing heat of a violent impact, such deposits might provide a delicate window into the possibility of past life on the Red Planet.

During the past few years, research has shown evidence about past life has been preserved in impact glass here on Earth. A 2014 study led by scientist Peter Schultz of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, found organic molecules and plant matter entombed in glass formed by an impact that occurred millions of years ago in Argentina.

Schultz suggested that similar processes might preserve signs of life on Mars, if they were present at the time of an impact.

Fellow Brown researchers Kevin Cannon and Jack Mustard, building on the previous research, detail their data about Martian impact glass in a report now online in the journal Geology.

“The work done by Pete and others showed us that glasses are potentially important for preserving biosignatures,” Cannon said.

“Knowing that, we wanted to go look for them on Mars and that’s what we did here. Before this paper, no one had been able to definitively detect them on the surface.”

Cannon and Mustard showed large glass deposits are present in several ancient, yet well-preserved, craters on Mars. Picking out the glassy deposits was no easy task.

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To identify minerals and rock types remotely, scientists measured the spectra of light reflected off the planet’s surface. But impact glass doesn’t have a particularly strong spectral signal.

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Jack Mustard

“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,” said Mustard.

“But Kevin found a way to tease that signal out.”

In a laboratory, Cannon mixed together powders with a similar composition of Martian rocks and fired them in an oven to form glass. He then measured the spectral signal from that glass.


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