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Glass Detected on Mars Could Hold Evidence of Life

Glass spotted in several ancient craters could be the key to discovering whether life existed on Mars.

Impact glass spotted in several ancient Mars craters could be the key to discovering whether life existed on the Red Planet.

NASA announced on Monday that scientists had detected glass deposits on Mars from data collected by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Impact glass is created in the intense heat generated by a meteorite crashing into a planet's surface.

Why does glass matter? Because scientists found organic molecules and plant matter from millions of years ago in a similar glass deposit in a crater in Argentina. If life existed when the Martian craters were formed, evidence could be preserved within the newly detected glass.

Mars glass
Deposits of impact glass (green) in the Alga Crater on Mars.NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHUAPL/Univ. of Arizona

Glass isn't easy to spot from space. Kevin Cannon and Jack Mustard, both researchers at Brown University, created glass from rocks similar to those found on Mars and measured its spectral signal. They then used an algorithm to find similar patterns in spectral imaging data gathered by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Their findings were recently published in the journal Geology.

"The researchers’ analysis suggests glass deposits are relatively common impact features on Mars," Jim Green, director of NASA's planetary science division, said in a statement. "These areas could be targets for future exploration as our robotic scientific explorers pave the way on the journey to Mars with humans in the 2030s."