Rocks on Mars May Provide Link to Evidence of Living Organisms Roughly 4 Billion Years Ago

Hydrothermal formation of Clay-Carbonate rocks in the Nili Fossae region of Mars

London, 30 July 2010 – A new article in press of the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters unveils groundbreaking research on the hydrothermal formation of Clay-Carbonate rocks in the Nili Fossae region of Mars. The findings may provide a link to evidence of living organisms on Mars, roughly 4 billion years ago in the Noachian period.

The paper “Hydrothermal formation of Clay-Carbonate alteration assemblages in the Nili Fossae region of Mars”, by Adrian J. Brown et al, suggests that carbonate bearing rocks found in the Nili Fossae region of Mars are made up of hydrothermally altered ultramafic (perhaps komatiitic) rocks. It also shows that the carbonates at Nili Fossae are not pure Mg-carbonate. Moreover, the study explains that talc is present in close proximity to the carbonate locations - rather than previously suggested saponite - and talc-carbonate alteration of high-Mg precursor rocks has taken place.

Adrian Brown, corresponding author, explains: “We suggest that the associated hydrothermal activity would have provided sufficient energy for biological activity on early Mars at Nili Fossae. Furthermore, in the article we discuss the potential of the Archean volcanics of the East Pilbara region of Western Australia as an analog for the Nochian Nili Fossae on Mars. They indicate that biomarkers or evidence of living organisms, if produced at Nili, could have been preserved, as they have been in the North Pole Dome region of the Pilbara craton.”

“Earth and Planetary Science Letters is delighted to be publishing this exciting new scientific finding, which marks a significant finding in the Nili Fossae region of Mars, highlighting similarities between traces of life on early Earth and early Mars, and suggests a landing site for an exobiology mission to Mars", remarked Tilman Spohn, Editor, Earth and Planetary Sciences."

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Notes to Editors
The article title is “Hydrothermal formation of Clay-Carbonate alteration assemblages in the Nili Fossae region of Mars” (doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2010.06.018) by Adrian J. Brown and Janice Bishop (SETI Institute), Simon J. Hook, Alice M. Baldridge and Nathan T. Bridges (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), Bradley J. Thomson (Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory), Giles M. Marion (Desert Research Institute), and Carlos R. de Souza Filho (Universidade Estadual de Campinas), and James K. Crowley.

About Earth and Planetary Science Letters
Since its first appearance in 1966, Earth and Planetary Science Letters has built up an enviable reputation. Its successful formula of presenting high-quality research articles with minimal delay has made it one of the most important sources of information in its field. The articles published reflect the great impact made on research in the geosciences by the use of successful research methods from other disciplines such as chemistry, physics, and mathematics. It also covers research into all aspects of lunar studies, plate tectonics, ocean floor spreading, and continental drift, as well as basic studies of the physical, chemical and mechanical properties of the Earth's crust and mantle, the atmosphere and the hydrosphere.

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