Black Beauty: 4.4 Billion-Year-Old Meteorite Found On Earth Exposes Mars’ Dark Mystery

Black Beauty, a 4.4 billion-year-old meteorite found in the Moroccan dessert, is “like no other rock ever found on earth,” but matches rocks that are plentiful on Mars. Just below the red dust that covers Martian crust, rocks that are a “spot-on match” for Black Beauty cover Mars’ dark plains. Also known to scientists as NWA 7034, Black Beauty was previously found to be a chunk of Martian crust.

Black Beauty, the meteorite from Mars, shows what's beneath Martian Crust.
A meteorite from Mars known as Black Beauty is 4.4 Billion years old.

A new paper published in the science journal Icarus suggests that unlike other Martian meteorites, the composition of Black Beauty exactly matches the estimated chemical composition of Mars’ crust. The scientists from the University of New Mexico and Brown University suggest that Martian crust contains a significant amount of the Black Beauty type of rock which was probably produced at a time, billions of years ago, when Mars’ crust was bombarded from space.

The meteorite represents the bulk background of rocks that can be found on the surface of Mars, according to Science Daily. The paper was co-written by Brown University graduate student Kevin Cannon, Jack Mustard of Brown University and Carl Agee from the University of New Mexico. Before the meteorite known as Black Beauty was found in 2011, meteorites from Mars found on Earth were classified as shergottites, nakhlites, or chassignites. According to the scientists, those are mostly igneous rocks from volcanic material. Black Beauty, however, is known as a breccia. Breccia is usually the term to describe different types of sedimentary rock fragments fused together with a matrix of another substance. In this case, Black Beauty’s pieces are welded together with a basaltic matrix, according to the press release.

Mars Curiosity Rover.

The research team used multiple spectroscopic techniques to analyze the unique meteorite.

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“What we wanted to do was get an average for the entire sample. That overall measurement was what ended up matching the orbital data,” Cannon explained.

The team’s analysis allowed them to finally understand the composition of Mars’ dark plains. The plains are areas of Mars’ surface that are covered in much less red dust than other areas of Martian crust, but are believed to offer a glimpse of what is hidden beneath the bulk of the red dust all over the planet.

“This is showing that if you went to Mars and picked up a chunk of crust, you’d expect it to be heavily beat up, battered, broken apart and put back together,” Cannon explained.

The team said that brecciation is a natural consequence of the multitude of impacts that pummeled the surface of Mars over billions of years, leaving more than 400,000 impact craters greater than a kilometer in diameter.

[Photo credit: NASA]