Opal in Martian Meteorite Might Mean Life

Opal found in a Martian meteorite might mean life once existed on the fourth rock from the sun. While this Martian meteorite has been on earth for just over 104 years, scientists and researchers are now using updated technology to thoroughly examine the rock.

Discovery of the Opal

In 1911, the Egyptian city of Nakhla was the host of a visitor from another planet. While this ‘visitor’ was in fact a meteorite and obviously not cognizant, it was what’s inside that would eventually lead to a fascinating discovery. Traces of the gemstone known as opal found in a Martian meteorite might mean life once existed on the red planet, at the very least, in a microbial sense. Scientists inspected a piece of the Nakhla meteorite, named for the city where it landed, with an electron microscope. This yielded trace evidence of the gemstone inside this otherworldly rock.

The Science Behind the Rock

The opal itself is not necessarily a sign of life, however, the conditions in which an opal forms might be. According to Martin Lee of the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences at the University of Glasgow, opals are generally created in or near hot springs. It just so happens that, at least on Earth, various forms of microbial life can live and even thrive in the conditions that hot springs create. What’s even more, is that, since opal, like other gemstones, are a solidification of minerals and often form around a base, it is possible that other opal, similar to the type found in the Nakhla meteorite, might have encompassed evidence of the aforementioned microbial life.

If scientists were to obtain access to more Martian meteorites that contain opal, they might find definitive proof in the form of fossilized microbes, that life once existed on Mars.

Martian Meteorite’s History

Many people witnessed the meteorite’s fall to Earth, which is not surprising as the entire object was broken up into around 40 pieces, weighing in at just about 20 pounds (~9 kilograms). The landing zone for this rock was an astonishing 2.8 miles (4.5 kilometers) in diameter. Two of the 40 pieces were donated to the Natural History Museum in London.

The discovery of the opal in the Martian meteorite might mean life exists outside of Earth, but what implications could that have, assuming it were true, on our study of space and the universe in general?


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