Nicknamed "Black Beauty," the authors of the study believe that this object is the first identifiable example of ancient Martian crust, which would have formed in the first 100 million years that Mars was around. As Florida State University professor and lead author Munir Humayun said, "It's just pressing its nose against the creation of Mars."
The meteorite contained zircon crystals that formed roughly 100 million years after the condensation of dust within the solar system. Humayun said "Since it takes time to build up a crust, and to allow that crust to process itself until it can start growing zircons, it's pretty amazing that we have such ancient zircon."
Here's a closer image of the 4-billion-year-old rock:
Black Beauty was also found to contain between 10 and 30 times more water than any previously discovered Martian meteorite. Although the scientists are unsure about the living conditions, they are continuing to study the rock in search for Martian fossils or the chemical waste left by primitive lifeforms. Either would leave a trace that scientists could latch onto.
Carl Agee, a University of New Mexico professor who was not involved in the research, said "If I were going to start looking [for evidence of past life on Mars], this would be the first place I would go, to this meteorite, because it is a sample from the surface."
Scientists still aren't sure if Mars could have supported life, but if there was ever a time that it could, it would have been 4.4 billion years ago. Volcanic processes, similar to those on Earth, would have released massive quantities of Carbon dioxide, Nitrogen gases, and water vapors that could have created an atmosphere or maybe even an ocean.
Unfortunately for Martian lifeforms, the planet underwent a heavy bombardment by comets and asteroids that may have decimated the biosphere. Earth, meanwhile, underwent a similar bombardment that actually permitted the formation of our biosphere. Mars may be currently inhospitable, but if there was life, Black Beauty would be able to tell us.[Main image via YouTube]