Mars’ water comes from two distinct sources

Hyperaxion Apr 1, 2020

After analyzing hydrogen isotopes in a Martian meteorite, scientists concluded that the chemical element has two different origins.

Mars probably received water from at least two very different sources at the beginning of its formation. This is what a research conducted by experts from the University of Arizona, in the United States, and published on Nature Geoscience points out.

The study was based on a meteorite from the Red Planet known as Northwest Africa 7034. Analyzing the material, experts also realized that the substances found indicate that Mars, unlike Earth and the Moon, never had an ocean of magma, completely covering the planet during its formation.

Mars’ water comes from two distinct sources
Mars received water from at least two different sources during its formation. (Credit NASA).

Analyzing isotopes

According to the researchers, the types of hydrogen present in different regions of the Red planet vary widely. Studying the meteorite samples, they found that two different types of volcanic rocks from Mars contained water with different proportions of hydrogen isotopes.

The enriched meteorites contained more deuterium (“heavy hydrogen”) than the depleted ones, which are more like the rocks found on Earth and have more protium (“light hydrogen”). The proportion of these two types of isotopes, deuterium and protium, indicates the possible origins of Martian water present in rocks and minerals.

This has led experts to suggest that the type of hydrogen present in the atmosphere of Mars is different from that which exists underground on the planet. This makes it easier to explain why there are two different hydrogen isotopes in the meteorite studied.

“These two different sources of water in Mars’ interior might be telling us something about the kinds of objects that were available to coalesce into the inner, rocky planets,” says researcher Jessica Barnes in a statement.

Northwest Africa 7034
Northwest Africa 7034. (Credit: Institute of Meteoritics UNM).

Because of this, Barnes and his colleagues believe that meteorites are capable of registering the “signatures” of two different sources of hydrogen (and water) on Mars. This huge divergence also suggests that more than one source may have contributed to the origin of Martian water, which contradicts the hypothesis that there was a magma ocean on the Red Planet millions of years ago, during its formation.

“A lot of people have been trying to figure out Mars’ water history. Like, where did water come from? How long was it in the crust (surface) of Mars? Where did Mars’ interior water come from? What can water tell us about how Mars formed and evolved?” asks Barnes. “This context is also important for understanding the past habitability and astrobiology of Mars.”

Related topics:

Isotopes Mars Meteorites

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