Researchers were able to discover the first Martian opal in a fragment of a meteorite that fell to Earth more than one hundred years ago.
The team was thrilled with the discovery because the gem could help them learn more about the Red Planet mysterious past and chances for it to harbor life.
Additionally, the precious stone may also help human explorers in their future efforts to detect life on the fourth planet from the sun by granting them valuable clues on where and what should they be looking for.
The traces of the precious stone were discovered by a research team at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, U.K. The stone was hidden in a 1.7-gram fragment collected from a Martian meteorite in 1911. The meteorite was provided by the National Museum of History in London which held the fragment in custody ever since.
Researchers claim that the meteorite, which was dubbed Nakhla after the Egyptian city where it was found, is a multi-million year old piece of rock that was displaced from the face of the Red Planet by an unknown force.
“The slice of Nakhla that we have is small, and the amount of fire opal we’ve found in it is even smaller, but our discovery of opal is significant for a couple of reasons,”
explained Prof Martin Lee, senior researcher of the team and professor at the University of Glasgow’s School of Geographical and Earth Sciences.
Prof Lee argued that the opal is important in the first place because it confirms what NASA’s robotic explorers on Mars have suggested. The images and terrain data that those missions had provided clearly show evidence of Martian opal deposits on the planet’s surface. Furthermore, it is the first time human researchers find traces of an opal of Martian origin in a meteorite fragment.
Additionally, since opals usually form around hot springs which are a welcoming environment for microbial life, the precious stones on Mars may, as well, contain traces of alien microbial life, Prof Lee suggested.
The newly-found gem was classified by researchers as a fire opal for its brilliant yellow and orange tint. Fire opals are common gems on Earth, as well. Study authors noted that the tiny traces of opal were found at the exact location where Martian water interacted with the silica in the meteorite.
Study authors now hope that opal deposits on Mars may contain troves of data on whether the planet contained life at some point in the past and the Martian geological history.
Image Source: Pinstopin