Martian rocks may reveal life

Clay-Carbonate rocks in the Nili Fossae region of Mars may contain fossilised remains of life.

Updated: Jul 30, 2010, 14:34 PM IST

Zeenews Bureau

New Delhi: A groundbreaking research on the hydrothermal formation of Clay-Carbonate rocks in the Nili Fossae region of Mars has revealed what the scientists claim are the fossilised remains of life on early Mars.

The findings could provide a link to evidence of living organisms on Mars, roughly 4 billion years ago in the Noachian period.

The research was conducted by a team of scientists led by Adrian Brown from the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI) in California.

Their work has revealed that this trench on the dark side of Mars is a "dead ringer" for a region in Australia where some of the earliest evidence of life on Earth has been buried and preserved in mineral form.

Their research paper has been published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

The team claims that the same "hydrothermal" processes that preserved these markers of life on Earth could have taken place on Mars at Nili Fossae.

The rocks there are up to four billion years old, which means they have been around for three-quarters of the history of Mars.

Their research paper titled "Hydrothermal formation of Clay-Carbonate alteration assemblages in the Nili Fossae region of Mars", suggests that carbonate bearing rocks found in the Nili Fossae region of Mars are made up of hydrothermally altered ultramafic (perhaps komatiitic) rocks.

It also shows that the carbonates at Nili Fossae are not pure Mg-carbonate. Moreover, the study explains that talc is present in close proximity to the carbonate locations - rather than previously suggested saponite - and talc-carbonate alteration of high-Mg precursor rocks has taken place.
Brown further explains, "We suggest that the associated hydrothermal activity would have provided sufficient energy for biological activity on early Mars at Nili Fossae. Furthermore, in the article we discuss the potential of the Archean volcanics of the East Pilbara region of Western Australia as an analog for the Nochian Nili Fossae on Mars. They indicate that biomarkers or evidence of living organisms, if produced at Nili, could have been preserved, as they have been in the North Pole Dome region of the Pilbara craton."

Since the discovery of carbonate in those rocks on Mars in 2008, scientists across the globe have hoped that life could have existed on the planet.
The basis of their assertion was carbonate, which has for long been sought as definitive evidence that the Red planet was habitable.

Carbonate is what life turns into, in many cases, when it is buried - if it does not turn in to oil. The white cliffs of Dover, for example, are white because they contain limestone, or calcium carbonate.