Unique Martian rock found in the Sahara desert

Brittany A. Roston - Jan 3, 2013, 7:09 pm CST
Unique Martian rock found in the Sahara desert

A rock from the Red Planet was discovered in the Sahara desert, and has been under study for the last year. The results from the study show that it is different from other Martian rocks that have been discovered, in that it contains more water and is older than the majority of other discoveries. The finding has been named NWA 7034, is said to be 2.1 billion years old, and offers a glimpse into Mars’ history.

Perhaps easier to remember, the rock is being referred to as Black Beauty, and was given to the University of New Mexico after being acquired in Morocco. It’s not the first rock from Mars to be found in the Sahara desert, and certainly isn’t the oldest, with that title going to a rock estimated to be 4.5 billion years old. Of the 65 or so rocks that have been found in the Sahara, most of them are younger than 600 million years.

A team at the University of New Mexico studied Black Beauty over the course of a year, during which they confirmed its Martian origins via its chemical makeup, and that it formed via a volcanic eruption. Likewise, it released a very small yet significant 6,000 parts per million of water when heated, which trumps the amount from other Martian rocks. The rock itself was relatively uncontaminated, it is being reported, and wasn’t terribly altered by Earth’s weather.

The study’s head at the University of New Mexico Carl Agee offered this statement. “Here we have a piece of Mars that I can hold in my hands. That’s really exciting … Having this sample from 2 billion years ago may give us a little bit of a glimpse of what the surface conditions were like [during the transition period when Mars went from warm and wet to cold and dry].”

[via Associated Press]

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