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The meteorite "Black Beauty" extends the window for life on Mars



The early surface of Mars, which consisted of a liquid magma ocean, crystallized extremely fast, only 20 million years after the formation of the solar system. After that, a solid crust appeared on the red planet, possibly harboring oceans of water and life.

This is an artistic depiction intended to illustrate the early solidification and formation of the primary crust on Mars with Jupiter in the background. Credit: Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris

The Mars meteorite Black Beauty has brought literally fresh news to the earth. Crust formation is an important step in developing terrestrial planets, and what makes Black Beauty special and expensive is that it contains small pieces of the crust of Mars. More specifically, Black Beauty contains the rare mineral zircon, in which researchers have found a high concentration of hafnium.

"Zirconium is a very robust mineral that is ideally suited to provide absolute ages, and zircons can be used to create a timeline to understand the genesis of the Martian crust," says Professor Martin Bizzarro and continues:

"Zircon also acts as a small time capsule because it preserves information about the environment, where, and when it was created, in which case a time capsule of hafnium originating from the earliest crust of Mars, the About 1

00 million years ago Black Beauty's oldest zircon occurred, so Mars had an early beginning compared to Earth, whose solid crust was formed much later. "

However, it took a degree of courage to achieve this result to reach.

We smashed the meteorites

The original 319.8 gram black beauty meteorite Black Beauty was found in 2011 in the Sahara Desert. It soon turned out that the meteorite was something special and currently has a retail price of about 500 euros. $ 10,000 per gram. One year ago, Professor Martin Bizzarro succeeded in acquiring 44 grams of Black Beauty with the help of various donors and the exchange of meteorites from the museum's collection.

One of the big challenges was that the zircons in Black Beauty are extremely small. This required a bold strategy: "We smashed our precious meteorite, or to be precise, we broke 5 grams," says Martin Bizzarro, continuing:

"Today I'm glad we chose this strategy. There were seven zircons, of which one is the oldest known zirconia on Mars, and from the zircons and their content of hafnium we can now conclude that the crystallization of the surface of Mars was extremely fast: as early as 20 million years after the Solar system, Mars had a solid crust that could possibly harbor oceans and oceans, perhaps even life. "


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