French boffins find Martian meteorite

5th January 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 3 (AFP) - Two French scientists said on Saturday they believed they had discovered a rare meteorite from Mars which could shed light on the red planet's geological makeup and volcanic activity.

PARIS, Jan 3 (AFP) - Two French scientists said on Saturday they believed they had discovered a rare meteorite from Mars which could shed light on the red planet's geological makeup and volcanic activity.

A team led by Carine Bidaut and Bruno Fectay found two chunks of meteorite weighing 414 and 383 grammes (14.6 and 15.5 ounces) respectively in the Atlas mountains of southern Morocco in January and March 2001.

A group of French scientists, the Theodore Monod Consortium, has just finished examining the stones and declared them to belong to the extremely rare group of SNC - shergottite, nakhlite, chassignite - meteorites, which are believed to come from Mars.

The scientists said the chunks of meteorite were magmatic rocks. Magmatism is the main process by which water moves from the core of planets to their surface.

Scientists said they hoped the discovery of the meteorites would help clarify the processes that produced magmas on Mars and perhaps make it possible "to estimate the quantity of fluids (and therefore water) released by volcanic activity on the planet".

SNC meteorites are extremely rare - fewer than 20 confirmed examples have been discovered - and are believed to all come from the same body of rock.

They are distinguished by their relative youth, being at most 1.3 million years old, compared to 4.5 million for other meteorites.

They are believed to come from Mars because, among other things, they show evidence of rare gases found in the planet's atmosphere and they are hydrated basaltic rocks, which indicates the presence of a hydrosphere in their place of origin.

US space agency NASA said in 1996 the evidence of microfossils may be present in meteorites from Mars.

The meteorite discovered by the French-led team in Morocco is officially called the North-West 1950 but has been nicknamed the Jules Verne, after the French author, by the scientists.

It is described as a peridotite - magmatic rock - consisting of olivine, pyroxenes and plagioclase glass.

Only one other example of an SNC meteorite equivalent to NWA 1950 has been found on earth - a chunk of rock discovered in Antarctica in 1977. Apart from NASA, no other scientific laboratory has had the opportunity to examine such a specimen.

The Theodore Monod Consortium holds a world record in the scientific community for studying the largest number of Martian meteorites - six as compared to NASA's four.

Bidaut and Fectay also hold a world record for the largest number of finds of exceptional stones, including six Martian meteorites.

They have a stock of over 1,000 meteorites waiting to be taken up by financial sponsors so they can be examined in European labs.

 © AFP

                                Subject: France news

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