Scientists have traced the oldest known Mars meteorite to its exact point of origin using artificial intelligence (AI), and the findings may help reveal what conditions on our the solar systemThe planets were like their very first days.
The meteorite of 320 grams, officially called Northwest Africa 7034, but commonly known as “Black Beauty”, is believed to have broken into Earth about 5 million years ago. After being found in the Sahara Desert in 2011, its age was dated to be just under 4.5 billion years old – making it the oldest Mars meteorite ever found on Earth.
Scientists believed that the meteorite was launched to Earth after a powerful asteroid attack hit Mars, tore up parts of the planet’s crust and sprayed them into space. Now, using a machine learning algorithm to identify and catalog 94 million craters on Mars, scientists have traced the origins of Black Beauty to a small crater in a crater on Mars’ southern hemisphere. The researchers named the crater Karratha after the Australian mining town where many of the earth’s oldest rocks have been found. They published their findings on July 12 in the journal Nature communication (opens in new tab).
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“Finding the region where the ‘Black Beauty’ meteorite originated is critical because it contains the oldest fragments of Mars ever found, at an age of 4.48 billion years old, and it shows similarities between Mars’ very old crust, which is about 4.53 billion years old, and today’s earth continents, “lead author Anthony Lagain, a planetary scientist at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, said in a statement. “The region we identify as the source of this unique meteorite sample from Mars is a real window into the earliest environment of the planets, including Earth, which our planet lost due to plate tectonics and erosion. “
To identify the starting point of the meteorite, scientists fed images of 94 million Mars craters taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s context camera into a machine learning algorithm. AI cross-referenced the size and distribution of craters with the material properties of the stray meteorite – which has some of the highest concentrations of potassium and thorium of any Mars meteorite found on Earth, and is one of the most magnetized. This limited the list of possible craters to 19, one of which stood out for the team because it closely matches the chronology of the Mars impact and the properties of the meteorite.
By studying the impact crater, the researchers found that Black Beauty was sent to Earth thanks to two asteroid impacts. The first – which melted into Mars and formed the 40-kilometer-wide Khujirt crater about 1.5 billion years ago – tore Black Beauty and other rocks from the Martian crust by force, sending them high into the atmosphere before raining down again. on the surface of the red planet. Then, after 5 to 10 million years of respite, a new impact sent Black Beauty to fly through space toward Earth, leaving the Karratha crater inside the Khujirt crater.
The findings suggest that the rock was once part of Mars’ original crust – the red crust’s original crust that formed shortly after the magma ocean cooled and solidified. As plate tectonics destroyed the Earth’s primordial crust, and the moon’s original crust was buried under thousands of meters of lunar dust, this crater makes it especially exciting for scientists who want to study how the bodies of our solar system were first formed.
Not only could the algorithm locate the ejection sites of other Mars meteorites, scientists say they also want to adapt the algorithm to perform similar searches over the moon and Mercury.
“This will help uncover their geological history and answer burning questions that will help future studies of the solar system such as the Artemis program to send humans to the moon by the end of the decade or the BepiColombo mission, orbit Mercury in 2025,” he said. co-author Gretchen Benedix, a planetary scientist at Curtin University in the statement.
Originally published on Live Science.