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Could glass deposits on Mars reveal how life was once present there too?

Toss those ol’ pieces of rock away and have a closer look at these interesting glass impacts instead! NASA researchers received data from CRISM (Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer), showing deposits of impact glass (green in image) lying in craters on Mars.

It was the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that snapped the images, and they have brought certain knowledge from geologists studying Earth to NASA’s attention.

In 2014 Peter Schultz, a scientist of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, led a study showing that organic molecules had been entombed in glass, formed millions of years ago in Argentina in this case, which had been created by an impact.

Now his suggestion about how similar processes could have preserved life signs on Mars, is highly interesting. Could these red planet glass deposits actually be containing plant or other organic matter from the time of the impact?

Two other researchers from Brown University, Kevin Cannon and Jack Mustard, explains how Schultz’s work meant they became determined to apply the same method to the ongoing search for life on Mars:

“The work done by Pete and others showed us that glasses are potentially important for preserving biosignatures. Knowing that, we wanted to go look for them on Mars, and that’s what we did here. Before this paper, no one had been able to definitively detect them on the surface.”

To correctly identify any rocks and minerals at a distance, they needed to measure the spectra of light being reflected from the impact glass. However, glass tend to be spectrally weak, meaning they are easily outnumbered by the light reflected from the rock chunks that are mixed within it.

By putting powders resembling the composition of Martian rocks in an oven, firing them to create glass, Cannon could then measure the exact spectral signal from the glass. Handing it over to Mustard, who used an algorithm to find similar signals in the data coming from CRISM, they could pinpoint glass deposits in multiple central peaks in Martian craters.

This initiates a whole new approach to detect any type of evidence for ancient life on Mars, and gives another range of angles to be applied to future missions, aiming to map and investigate our intriguing neighbor in the sky.

Image: NASA