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Long before their space journey, water altered the rock, leaving behind microscopic fractures filled with clays and carbonates. Tomkinson's team discovered that Lafayette's siderite, an iron-rich carbonate mineral, formed through carbonation.Radiometric dating indicates these minerals formed some 625 million years ago. (This is the same process proposed for carbon sequestration on Earth.) When water and carbon dioxide gas combine with olivine minerals in the basalt, the ensuing chemical reaction creates carbonate and silicate minerals, trapping the gas.The space agency's MAVEN mission, short for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolutio N, will test whether the volatile gases were ripped away into space or trapped on the surface in ice and rocks. One popular model suggests the atmosphere was lost to space when Mars lost its magnetic field. But a new analysis of a Martian meteorite claims that some of the carbon dioxide disappeared into Mars itself, and not out into space as previous studies have suggested."This is the first direct evidence of how carbon dioxide is removed, trapped and stored on Mars," said Tim Tomkinson, lead study author and a geochemist at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom.
Radioactivity also gave the history of life an absolute calendar.The Lafayette is one of several Martian meteorites called the Nakhlites, thought to have been ejected out of a vast volcanic plateau by a comet impact.The meteorites are 1.3-billion-year-old basalt, a volcanic rock rich in the mineral olivine.By measuring the atoms produced by these breakdowns inside rocks, physicists were able to estimate their ages (right).And by comparing the ratios of those atoms to atoms from meteorites, they could estimate how long ago it was that the Earth formed along with the rest of the solar system.
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The great physicist Lord Kelvin had countered that the planet was actually relatively young perhaps 20 million years old.