Researchers discover Mars had water before there was life on Earth

Life is widely believed to have first appeared on Earth approximately 3.5B years ago

NASA is on its way to figuring out whether Mars contains fossilized evidence of extraterrestrial life, but a new study suggests the Red Planet had water billions of years earlier than previously believed.

The research, published in Science Advances, notes there was water on Mars’ surface 4.4 billion years ago. The experts looked at meteorite NWA 7533, believed to have originated on Mars, and found levels of oxidation inside the space rock that suggests there was water on Mars long before there was life on Earth.

“This oxidation could have occurred if there was water present on or in the Martian crust 4.4 billion years ago during an impact that melted part of the crust,” study co-author and University of Tokyo planetary scientist Takashi Mikouchi said in a statement. “Our analysis also suggests such an impact would have released a lot of hydrogen, which would have contributed to planetary warming at a time when Mars already had a thick insulating atmosphere of carbon dioxide.”

Martian meteorite NWA 7533 is worth more than its weight in gold. (Credit: University of Copenhagen/Deng et al.)

Martian meteorite NWA 7533 is worth more than its weight in gold. (Credit: University of Copenhagen/Deng et al.)

Previous estimates put the presence of water on Mars at approximately 3.7 billion years ago, roughly 700 million years later than the new study suggests.

Mikouchi, who said this is the first time he has studied NWA 7533 (discovered in the Sahara Desert in 2012), noted that the team’s analysis of it “led … to some exciting conclusions.”

Along with NWA 7533, meteorite NWA 7504 was also discovered in the Sahara around the same time.

A small chunk of an asteroid or comet is known as a meteoroid. When it enters Earth’s atmosphere, it becomes a meteor, fireball or shooting star. The pieces of rock that hit the ground, valuable to collectors, are called meteorites.

If indeed there was water on Mars earlier than previously believed, the researchers suggested it could be from a “natural byproduct” of another process that went into forming Mars.

In October, a separate group of researchers found that Mars has an abundance of liquid water in the underground lakes in its south pole.

In 2018, scientists made the incredible discovery of a “stable body of liquid water” on Mars. The three lakes are roughly 6 miles across, nearly a mile deep and approximately 12 miles away from the lake discovered in 2018.

A separate group of researchers suggested in January 2020 that the water on Mars once contained the right ingredients to support life.

NASA recently launched the Perseverance rover into space to explore Mars. While on the Red Planet, the rover will perform a variety of different functions, including looking for evidence of ancient life.