On a clear day in west Texas, on March 22, 1998, a meteorite fell to Earth and was seen up by a group of boys. They picked up the stone and it made its way to the Johnson Space Center (JSC) for analysis. In a JSC clean room two days later, the grey rock was opened with a hammer. Scientists found blue and purple halite inside. Halite is a salt crystal, similar to table salt. The crystals were up to 3 milimeters (less than a tenth of an inch) in diameter. These are the largest halite crystals ever seen by scientists in any extraterrestrial material. The presence of water inside the crystals was confirmed using several forms of scientific analysis.
The crystals have turned blue and purple by radiation, and are estimated to be 4.5 billion years old. That means that the trapped water could predate the sun and planets in our Solar System.
According to the authors, the study of this meteorite has resulted in a finding that a brine solution was present when the Solar System was formed. The brine could have been flowing within the asteroid itself when it was in space or it could have been deposited on the asteroid by a passing object, such as a comet.
The full story appears as an article entited Asteroidal Water Within Fluid Inclusion-Bearing Halite in an H5 Chondrite, Monahans (1998) in the Journal, Science's edition of August 27, 1999. The authors are Michael E. Zolensky (JSC), Robert J. Bodnar (Department of Geological Sciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA), Everett K. Gibson Jr. (JSC), Laurence E. Nyquist (JSC), Young Reese (Lockheed Martin Space Operations Company, Houston, TX), Chi-Yu Shih (Lockheed Martin Space Operations Company, Houston, TX), and Henry Wiesmann (Lockheed Martin Space Operations Company, Houston, TX)
To learn more about NASA's work in extraterrestrial materals, visit http://http://www-curator.jsc.nasa.gov/ -- the Home Page for the Curator for Astromaterials Samples at Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. That organization's mission is to protect, preserve, and distribute for study samples from the Moon, Mars, and interplanetary space in support of solar system exploration.
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