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By Devin Coldewey

The discovery of trace amounts of opal gemstones on the surface of Mars could be a lead to evidence of life on the Red Planet, researchers at the University of Glasgow suggest in a new study. Earth scientist Martin Lee and his team used a scanning electron microscope to examine a fragment of a Martian meteorite, named Nakhla after the town in Egypt where it fell in 1911.

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The meteorite, they write in a paper published in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science, contains a small amount of fire opal, a gemstone often set in jewelry. More importantly, though, opal is often found near hot springs, where microbial life thrives in mineral-rich waters and sometimes becomes preserved in the opal deposits as if in amber.

Related: Glass Detected on Mars Could Hold Evidence of Life

These findings confirm evidence of opals from Mars missions, and provide a target for future experiments. "If Martian microbes existed, it’s possible they too may be preserved in opal deposits on the surface of Mars," Lee said in a news release. "Closer study of Martian opals by future missions to Mars could well help us learn more about the planet’s past and whether it once held life."