The latest research has revealed the mineral zircon is apparently abundant on the surface of Earth’s nearest neighbour, Mars. University of Copenhagen scientists arrived at their startling conclusion after analysing the age and isotope composition of zircons. They also found a significant proportion of these crystals originated from Mars’ core.
If correct, this may revolutionise our understanding of the Red Planet’s internal structure and its evolution.
We were quite surprised and excited when we found so many zircons in this Martian meteorite
Professor Martin Bizzarro
The uranium-bearing mineral zircon is also abundant in our planet’s continental crust.
The mineral’s presence is helpful in measuring geological features from shifting continents to volcanic eruptions.
However, unlike Earth’s surface, the Martian crust instead resembles that found on our ocean floor, where zircon is rare.
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As a result, zircon was not expected to be a common mineral on Mars.
Professor Martin Bizzarro from the GLOBE Institute, who led the study, said: “We were quite surprised and excited when we found so many zircons in this Martian meteorite.
“Zircon are incredibly durable crystals that can be dated and preserve information that tell us about their origins.
“Having access to so many zircons is like opening a time window into the geologic history of the planet.”
The team investigated an ancient Martian meteorite NWA 7533, known as ‘Black Beauty’ which was discovered in the Morocco desert in 2011.
After extracting approximately 60 zircons from 15 grams of rock, researchers discovered most of the crystals were 4.5 billion years old – the Red Planet’s age.
But they also made an unexpected discovery: some zircons were far younger, ranging from about 1,500 million years to 300 million-years-old.
Professor Bizzarro said: ”These young ages were a great surprise.
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“The Black Beauty meteorite is believed to come from the southern hemisphere of Mars, which does not have any young volcanic terrains.
“The only possible source for these young zircons is the Tharsis volcanic province located in the northern hemisphere of the planet, which contains large volcanoes that were recently active.”
Because Mars is almost totally dead, seismically speaking, the planet lacks plate tectonics.
This means volcanoes pile-up at one single location and as a result grow to phenomenal proportions.
So if the researchers’ conclusions are correct, the younger zircons may contain information about the deep, inaccessible core of Mars.
This marks the first time scientists have achieved direct access to the Red Planet’s deep interior via these samples, allowing them to map its internal structure and composition.
Mafalda Costa, co-author of new study, said in a statement: “Having samples of the deep interior of Mars is key.
“This means that we can now use these zircons to probe the origin of the volatile elements on Mars, including its water, and see how it compares with Earth and other planets in the Solar System.”
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