Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Mars


It has been proposed that ~3.4 billion years ago an ocean fed by enormous catastrophic floods covered most of the Martian northern lowlands. However, a persistent problem with this hypothesis is the lack of definitive paleoshoreline features. Here, based on geomorphic and thermal image mapping in the circum-Chryse and northwestern Arabia Terra regions of the northern plains, in combination with numerical analyses, we show evidence for two enormous tsunami events possibly triggered by bolide impacts, resulting in craters ~30 km in diameter and occurring perhaps a few million years apart. The tsunamis produced widespread littoral landforms, including run-up water-ice-rich and bouldery lobes, which extended tens to hundreds of kilometers over gently sloping plains and boundary cratered highlands, as well as backwash channels where wave retreat occurred on highland-boundary surfaces. The ice-rich lobes formed in association with the younger tsunami, showing that their emplacement took place following a transition into a colder global climatic regime that occurred after the older tsunami event. We conclude that, on early Mars, tsunamis played a major role in generating and resurfacing coastal terrains.

Concepts: Climate, Greek loanwords, Mars, Pacific Ocean, 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, Tsunami, Flood, Landform


Planetary formation models show that terrestrial planets are formed by the accretion of tens of Moon- to Mars-sized planetary embryos through energetic giant impacts. However, relics of these large proto-planets are yet to be found. Ureilites are one of the main families of achondritic meteorites and their parent body is believed to have been catastrophically disrupted by an impact during the first 10 million years of the solar system. Here we studied a section of the Almahata Sitta ureilite using transmission electron microscopy, where large diamonds were formed at high pressure inside the parent body. We discovered chromite, phosphate, and (Fe,Ni)-sulfide inclusions embedded in diamond. The composition and morphology of the inclusions can only be explained if the formation pressure was higher than 20 GPa. Such pressures suggest that the ureilite parent body was a Mercury- to Mars-sized planetary embryo.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, Solar System, Planet, Mars, Dwarf planet, Mercury, Venus


Chemical disequilibrium in planetary atmospheres has been proposed as a generalized method for detecting life on exoplanets through remote spectroscopy. Among solar system planets with substantial atmospheres, the modern Earth has the largest thermodynamic chemical disequilibrium due to the presence of life. However, how this disequilibrium changed over time and, in particular, the biogenic disequilibria maintained in the anoxic Archean or less oxic Proterozoic eons are unknown. We calculate the atmosphere-ocean disequilibrium in the Precambrian using conservative proxy- and model-based estimates of early atmospheric and oceanic compositions. We omit crustal solids because subsurface composition is not detectable on exoplanets, unlike above-surface volatiles. We find that (i) disequilibrium increased through time in step with the rise of oxygen; (ii) both the Proterozoic and Phanerozoic may have had remotely detectable biogenic disequilibria due to the coexistence of O2, N2, and liquid water; and (iii) the Archean had a biogenic disequilibrium caused by the coexistence of N2, CH4, CO2, and liquid water, which, for an exoplanet twin, may be remotely detectable. On the basis of this disequilibrium, we argue that the simultaneous detection of abundant CH4 and CO2 in a habitable exoplanet’s atmosphere is a potential biosignature. Specifically, we show that methane mixing ratios greater than 10-3 are potentially biogenic, whereas those exceeding 10-2 are likely biogenic due to the difficulty in maintaining large abiotic methane fluxes to support high methane levels in anoxic atmospheres. Biogenicity would be strengthened by the absence of abundant CO, which should not coexist in a biological scenario.

Concepts: Water, Solar System, Planet, Mars, Atmosphere, Neptune, Uranus, Proterozoic


The Earth-Moon system likely formed as a result of a collision between two large planetary objects. Debate about their relative masses, the impact energy involved, and the extent of isotopic homogenization continues. We present the results of a high-precision oxygen isotope study of an extensive suite of lunar and terrestrial samples. We demonstrate that lunar rocks and terrestrial basalts show a 3 to 4 ppm (parts per million), statistically resolvable, difference in Δ17O. Taking aubrite meteorites as a candidate impactor material, we show that the giant impact scenario involved nearly complete mixing between the target and impactor. Alternatively, the degree of similarity between the Δ17O values of the impactor and the proto-Earth must have been significantly closer than that between Earth and aubrites. If the Earth-Moon system evolved from an initially highly vaporized and isotopically homogenized state, as indicated by recent dynamical models, then the terrestrial basalt-lunar oxygen isotope difference detected by our study may be a reflection of post-giant impact additions to Earth. On the basis of this assumption, our data indicate that post-giant impact additions to Earth could have contributed between 5 and 30% of Earth’s water, depending on global water estimates. Consequently, our data indicate that the bulk of Earth’s water was accreted before the giant impact and not later, as often proposed.

Concepts: Oxygen, Water, Earth, Planet, Mars, Moon, Chemical element, Impact event


Perchlorates have been identified on the surface of Mars. This has prompted speculation of what their influence would be on habitability. We show that when irradiated with a simulated Martian UV flux, perchlorates become bacteriocidal. At concentrations associated with Martian surface regolith, vegetative cells of Bacillus subtilis in Martian analogue environments lost viability within minutes. Two other components of the Martian surface, iron oxides and hydrogen peroxide, act in synergy with irradiated perchlorates to cause a 10.8-fold increase in cell death when compared to cells exposed to UV radiation after 60 seconds of exposure. These data show that the combined effects of at least three components of the Martian surface, activated by surface photochemistry, render the present-day surface more uninhabitable than previously thought, and demonstrate the low probability of survival of biological contaminants released from robotic and human exploration missions.

Concepts: DNA, Oxygen, Human, Ultraviolet, Sun, Hydrogen, Mars, Electromagnetic spectrum


Martian habitats are ideally constructed using only locally available soils; extant attempts to process structural materials on Mars, however, generally require additives or calcination. In this work we demonstrate that Martian soil simulant Mars-1a can be directly compressed at ambient into a strong solid without additives, highlighting a possible aspect of complete Martian in-situ resource utilization. Flexural strength of the compact is not only determined by the compaction pressure but also significantly influenced by the lateral boundary condition of processing loading. The compression loading can be applied either quasi-statically or through impact. Nanoparticulate iron oxide (npOx), commonly detected in Martian regolith, is identified as the bonding agent. Gas permeability of compacted samples was measured to be on the order of 10(-16) m(2), close to that of solid rocks. The compaction procedure is adaptive to additive manufacturing.

Concepts: Oxygen, Soil, Mars, Geology, Compact space, Regolith, Geomorphology, In-situ resource utilization


One aim of modern astronomy is to detect temperate, Earth-like exoplanets that are well suited for atmospheric characterization. Recently, three Earth-sized planets were detected that transit (that is, pass in front of) a star with a mass just eight per cent that of the Sun, located 12 parsecs away. The transiting configuration of these planets, combined with the Jupiter-like size of their host star-named TRAPPIST-1-makes possible in-depth studies of their atmospheric properties with present-day and future astronomical facilities. Here we report the results of a photometric monitoring campaign of that star from the ground and space. Our observations reveal that at least seven planets with sizes and masses similar to those of Earth revolve around TRAPPIST-1. The six inner planets form a near-resonant chain, such that their orbital periods (1.51, 2.42, 4.04, 6.06, 9.1 and 12.35 days) are near-ratios of small integers. This architecture suggests that the planets formed farther from the star and migrated inwards. Moreover, the seven planets have equilibrium temperatures low enough to make possible the presence of liquid water on their surfaces.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, Planet, Mars, Mercury, Star, Gas giant, Terrestrial planet


Direct evidence of complex prebiotic chemistry from a water-rich world in the outer solar system is provided by the 4.5-billion-year-old halite crystals hosted in the Zag and Monahans (1998) meteorites. This study offers the first comprehensive organic analysis of the soluble and insoluble organic compounds found in the millimeter-sized halite crystals containing brine inclusions and sheds light on the nature and activity of aqueous fluids on a primitive parent body. Associated with these trapped brines are organic compounds exhibiting wide chemical variations representing organic precursors, intermediates, and reaction products that make up life’s precursor molecules such as amino acids. The organic compounds also contain a mixture of C-, O-, and N-bearing macromolecular carbon materials exhibiting a wide range of structural order, as well as aromatic, ketone, imine, and/or imidazole compounds. The enrichment in 15N is comparable to the organic matter in pristine Renazzo-type carbonaceous chondrites, which reflects the sources of interstellar 15N, such as ammonia and amino acids. The amino acid content of the Zag halite deviates from the meteorite matrix, supporting an exogenic origin of the halite, and therefore, the Zag meteorite contains organics synthesized on two distinct parent bodies. Our study suggests that the asteroidal parent body where the halite precipitated, potentially asteroid 1 Ceres, shows evidence for a complex combination of biologically and prebiologically relevant molecules.

Concepts: Amino acid, Acid, Amine, Ammonia, Chemistry, Mars, Carbon, Meteorite


The timing and nature of igneous activity recorded at a single Mars ejection site can be determined from the isotope analyses of Martian meteorites. Northwest Africa (NWA) 7635 has an Sm-Nd crystallization age of 2.403 ± 0.140 billion years, and isotope data indicate that it is derived from an incompatible trace element-depleted mantle source similar to that which produced a geochemically distinct group of 327- to 574-million-year-old “depleted” shergottites. Cosmogenic nuclide data demonstrate that NWA 7635 was ejected from Mars 1.1 million years ago (Ma), as were at least 10 other depleted shergottites. The shared ejection age is consistent with a common ejection site for these meteorites. The spatial association of 327- to 2403-Ma depleted shergottites indicates >2 billion years of magmatism from a long-lived and geochemically distinct volcanic center near the ejection site.

Concepts: Mars, Isotope, Meteorite, Basalt, Olivine, Mars meteorite, Chassigny


Meteorites represent the only samples available for study on Earth of a number of planetary bodies. The minerals within meteorites therefore hold the key to addressing numerous questions about our solar system. Of particular interest is the Ca-phosphate mineral merrillite, the anhydrous end-member of the merrillite-whitlockite solid solution series. For example, the anhydrous nature of merrillite in Martian meteorites has been interpreted as evidence of water-limited late-stage Martian melts. However, recent research on apatite in the same meteorites suggests higher water content in melts. One complication of using meteorites rather than direct samples is the shock compression all meteorites have experienced, which can alter meteorite mineralogy. Here we show whitlockite transformation into merrillite by shock-compression levels relevant to meteorites, including Martian meteorites. The results open the possibility that at least part of meteoritic merrillite may have originally been H(+)-bearing whitlockite with implications for interpreting meteorites and the need for future sample return.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, Solar System, Planet, Mars, Mineral, Meteorite, Comet