Unlike Earth, Mars may have never had a global magma ocean – Astronomy Magazine

Posted: March 31, 2020 at 6:54 am

At least once in its past, Earth existed as a roiling ball of molten rock that might have had the consistency of room-temperature oil, but would been untouchable at some 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,090 degrees Celsius).

As magma oceans ebbed and flowed, the tumult might have launched elements conducive for life out of the rock and into our atmosphere. Researchers previously thought that maybe similar fluid dynamics and the resulting spewing of life-supporting materials likewise happened on Mars. But new research suggests that's not the case.

Weve had so little time to think about how a planet would evolve without a melting step, its hard to tell if this is a net positive or net negative for [the possibility of] life, says Francis McCubbin, a NASA national materials coordinator and researcher who co-authored the new research.

By studying meteorites that came from Mars, McCubbin and his colleagues determined that the planet hosts two regions where the rock contains different ratios of hydrogen varieties. If the planet had once been awash in liquid rock, the same ratio of hydrogen types would be found all over the place, the team concluded in their Nature Geoscience paper.

Hydrogen analysis is one way to figure out whether Mars ever had a global magma ocean, McCubbin says. Other, yet-unstudied chemical systems on the planet could reveal ocean formation. Thatspart of why McCubbin says its too early to consider this finding a thumbs-down for the possibility of life on Mars and why their team plans to keep looking for signs of a once-liquid planet.

Before our solar system had planets, it had dust and gas. When those particles started clumping together, researchers think the clumps collided again and again until entire planets formed. Eventually, the clusters melted into an ocean of magma. Like a blender mixing strawberries and bananas into a smoothie, liquifying would swirl all the deposits from the early solar system together. The process would also churn material from inside the planet core and release it into the atmosphere, McCubbin says, including elements and chemicals necessary for life.

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Unlike Earth, Mars may have never had a global magma ocean - Astronomy Magazine

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