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Scientists discover the birthplace of Martian meteorite ‘Black Beauty’

A team of researchers in Australia used a supercomputer-powered algorithm to trace a famous meteorite’s path from Mars more than 4 billion years ago to its resting place in northern Africa.

(CN) — A team of scientists discovered the birthplace of one of the oldest known Martian meteorites, a pyramid-shaped shrouded stone named "Black Beauty," and the find could aid them in understanding the red planet’s geological history for future exploration, according to a study published Tuesday.

Researchers from Curtin’s Space Science and Technology Centre — in collaboration with the Curtin Institute for Computation, the School of Civil and Mechanical Engineering, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and the Australian Space Data Analysis Facility — worked to create an algorithm that would reverse engineer NWA 7034, or Black Beauty’s cosmic route from Mars.

Black Beauty reached Earth approximately 4.53 billion years ago after another celestial object struck Mars’ surface and sent the meteorite chunk out into space. The meteorite landed in what would eventually become northern Africa, where it was discovered in 2011.

Since its discovery, scientists across the world have studied the famous Black Beauty specifically, as it is the only known “brecciated” sample on Earth, meaning it contains a heterogeneous mixture of distinct minerals rather than a solid hunk of one particular element or compound.

“For the first time, we know the geological context of the only brecciated Martian sample available on Earth, 10 years before the NASA’s Mars Sample Return mission is set to send back samples collected by the Perseverance rover currently exploring Jezero crater,” said Anthony Lagain, lead author of the study published in Nature Communications.

Researchers needed to discover the meteorite’s source to learn more, so they partnered with technology specialists to create a machine-learning algorithm that took detailed images of Mars’ surface and reverse-engineered Black Beauty’s trajectory from the original point of impact. The work was done using a supercomputer at the Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre in Australia.

With the algorithm’s help, the team discovered that Mars' Karratha crater, named after the Pilbara city in western Australia, was home to one of the oldest terrestrial rocks.

“The region we identify as being the source of this unique Martian meteorite sample constitutes a true window into the earliest environment of the planets, including the Earth, which our planet lost because of plate tectonics and erosion,” Lagain said.

What’s more, the algorithm could be used to track the geological histories of other celestial bodies, including Mercury and Earth’s Moon.

“This will help to unravel their geological history and answer burning questions that will help future investigations of the solar system such as the Artemis program to send humans on the Moon by the end of the decade or the BepiColombo mission, in orbit around Mercury in 2025,” said study co-author Gretchen Benedix.

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