A meteorite from Mars that landed in the Moroccan desert 14 months ago has given Alberta scientists an opportunity to discover more information about that planet.
Chris Herd, a University of Alberta geologist, has helped in the study of the meteorite, in which traces of Mars' unique atmosphere are trapped.
"Our team matched traces of gases found inside the meteorite with samples of Mars' atmosphere collected in 1976 by Viking, NASA's Mars lander mission," said Herd, who published a research paper in the journal Science on Thursday.
The meteorite started out 600 million years ago as a typical volcanic rock on the surface of Mars until it was launched off the planet by the impact of an asteroid.
"It's an interesting rock because it's so fresh," Herd said in an interview that airs on Quirks & Quarks on Saturday.
"At the instant of that impact with Mars, a shock wave shot through the rock," said Herd. "Cracks and fissures within the rock were sealed instantly by the heat, trapping components of Mars' atmosphere inside, and forming black, glassy spots."
"It's the glassy spots that are the real story," he adds, because they reveal "evidence of weathering at the Martian surface."
"This means water was present on the surface of Mars within the past few hundred million years — but it does not carry any evidence that the water supported any life forms," he says.
However, it doesn't conclusively prove there wasn't life back then as "the Martian rock was subjected to such intense heat, any water-borne microbial life forms that may have existed deep within cracks of the rock would have been destroyed."
Curiosity, NASA's current Mars rover, is moving around the red planet examining the geology there and sending back information on the history of Mars.
But Herd says another mission to Mars that would bring rocks back to Earth might be the only way of answering some of the the big questions. "Martian rocks delivered to Earth by a spacecraft would provide the best opportunity to see if life was ever clinging to the surface of Mars."