An old meteor site in Germany is being studied to help scientists gain a better understanding of how the previous life on Mars could have existed.
An international research team analyzed samples from Nordlinger Ries, a 25-kilometer-wide impact crater in southern Germany.
The geology and chemistry of the site show similarities with the Mars surface – in particular the Jezero crater north of the Mars equator.
Both Jezero and Nordlinger Ries contained liquid water in their distant past, making their chemical compositions comparable.
The Ries crater – in which an entire city was built more than 1,000 years ago – has layers of rock and minerals that are better preserved than almost anywhere on earth.
Specifically, nitrogen isotopes in rock samples from the Ries crater estimate the pH of ancient waters on Mars.
A monster of suevite rock formed almost 15 million years ago by the meteorite impact of Ries Crater. Similarly, impact-generated rocks exist on the edges of old crater lakes on Mars
The Mars 2020 rover will land next year in a similarly structured and well-preserved old crater on Mars, called the Jezero crater.
Comparisons between the two will help scientists understand how Mars once organized oceans and lives billions of years ago.
WHAT IS THE NÖRDLINGEN RIES CRATER?
Nördlingen Ries is an impact crater that formed on Earth about 14.8 million years ago from an asteroid smashed into the earth’s surface.
The crater, which is 15 miles in diameter, is usually referred to simply as the Ries crater or the Ries.
The city of Nördlingen was built in the crater at the latest in the 9th century.
De Ries is recognized as an analogy for Mars craters.
Ries was a walkrater, which can be found almost exclusively on Mars.
Rampart craters show a ‘fluidized ejecta’ stream after the impact of the meteorite.
“The question that drives our interests is not whether there is life on present-day Mars,” said Professor Timothy Lyons of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of California, Riverside.
“We are driven instead by asking if there were billions of years ago on Mars, which seems considerably more likely.”
Mars is currently too cold – minus 81 degrees Fahrenheit – to support life as we know it.
NASA research has already shown that Mars had an ocean of liquid water about 4 billion years ago, but how that was possible is not entirely certain.
Mars is farther away from the sun than the earth and billions of years ago the sun produced less heat than today.
“To make the planet warm enough for liquid surface water, its atmosphere probably needed a huge amount of greenhouse gas, especially carbon dioxide,” said Chris Tino, co-author of the study, published in Science is progressing.
Ancient Mars is unlikely to have enough oxygen to house complex life forms such as humans and animals, although microorganisms may have survived in alkaline lakes.
Alkaline lakes with a high pH are among the most productive ecosystems on earth and are important goals in the quest for life on Mars.
Alkaline lakes also suggest sufficient carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to heat the planet and enable liquid water.
The city of Nördlingen in Bavaria, Germany, which was built more than 1,100 years ago in an impact crater called Nordlinger Ries. The crater itself was formed about 15 million years ago by a meteorite
The team believes that Nordlinger Ries – which was formed about 15 million years ago after being hit by a meteorite – could help fill the gaps in Mars’ history.
The German crater helps astrobiologists to understand the alkalinity, pH and nitrogen content of ancient waters on Mars, which in turn suggests that carbon dioxide composition is suggestive of life.
“Ries crater rock samples have ratios of nitrogen isotopes that can best be explained by high pH,” said co-author Eva Stüeken at the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of St. Andrews.
“Moreover, the minerals in the old sediments tell us that the alkalinity was also very high.”
Mars rock samples with mineral indicators for high alkalinity and nitrogen isotope data indicating a relatively low pH would require extremely high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the past.
The resulting carbon dioxide estimates can help solve the mystery of how an ancient Mars so far from a faint early sun could have been warm enough for surface oceans and perhaps life.
Jezero Crater, the landing site for the upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission, which will land in February 2021 to look for signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the old past
When samples from NASA’s Mars 2020 robbery mission are brought back to Earth, they can be analyzed for their nitrogen isotope ratios.
This data can confirm the team’s suspicion that very high levels of carbon dioxide made liquid water possible and perhaps even some time ago some forms of microbial life.
“It can take 10-20 years for monsters to be brought back to Earth,” said Professor Lyons.
“But I am very happy to know that we may have helped define one of the first questions to be asked once these samples are distributed to laboratories in the US and around the world.
WHAT DO WE KNOW OF NASA’S MARS 2020 ROVER?
Nasa’s Mars 2020 rover searches for signs of old life on Mars in an effort to help scientists better understand how life on our own planet evolved.
The machine will explore an old river delta in the Jezero crater, which was once filled with a lake of 500 feet (500 meters) deep.
It is believed that the region organized microbial life some 3.5 to 3.9 billion years ago.
Nasa’s Mars 2020 rover (artist’s impression) will look for signs of old life on Mars in an effort to help scientists better understand how life on our own planet evolved
The $ 2.5 billion (£ 1.95 billion) Mars 2020 is scheduled for launch in July 2020 and lands in February 2021.
Mars 2020 is designed to land in the crater and collect samples that are ultimately sent back to Earth for further analysis.
NASA says a second mission will have to fly to the planet and return the monsters, perhaps in the later 2020s.
This concept art shows the Mars 2020 rover landing on the red planet via NASA’s sky-crane system