A thick, black chunk of rock no bigger than a baseball may hold clues to the four-and-a-half-billion-year history of Mars, Outer Places is reporting.
“Black Beauty” (or more officially, NWA 7034) was found in the Sahara Desert in 2011. To the untrained eye, there’s absolutely nothing special about the rock: it’s black (of course), more-or-less smooth on one side, is about the size of a baseball, and weighs 320 grams (or about 11.29 ounces) – roughly the weight of a can of soda. However, to hold it in your hand is to hold a time capsule that carries with it the secrets of the history of the solar system.
Why Is It Significant?
“Black Beauty” is what geologists call a breccia – that is, it’s formed from different kinds of rock fused together by heat. That’s important because that means the rock came from deeper within Mars’ crust than other known Martian meteorites, which came from the surface.
Using chronometry – that is, the science of measuring the ages of ancient things – scientists determined that the rock is 4.4 billion-years-old.
All things considered, that means that scientists now have new insight into how the crust of the Red Planet formed. Specifically, it offers clues into what astronomers call the “Martian dichotomy” – that is, the differences in the terrain between Mars’ northern and southern hemispheres.
Cosmochemist Bill Cassata says that the rock is an indication that the Martian dichotomy occurred far earlier than previously thought.
Anything Else Cool About “Black Beauty”
Yes, actually. Back in 2013, as NASA reported at the time, scientists found out something else amazing about this particular Martian rock: it contains water. In fact, it contains 10 times as much water as any other known Martian meteorite. That’s pretty conclusive evidence that, at one time anyway, there was water on Mars.
Wait, Other Martian Meteorites?
Black Beauty isn’t the only Martian meteorite to have been found on Earth. In fact, according to The Meteoritical Society, there have been 132 confirmed Martian meteorites found on our planet in recorded human history. And if you’re wondering how the scientific community confirmed that, wonder no longer: according to a 2013 NASA report, the Curiosity Rover conducted an analysis of argon in Mars’ atmosphere to confirm the Martian origin of those meteorites here on Earth.
How Did They Get Here?
Violently. The prevailing theory is that the rocks were ejected from the planet’s surface due to impacts with comets or asteroids. They then traveled millions of miles through space, survived the perilous journey through our atmosphere, and then a fortunate few managed to land on solid ground, where humans could find them.