Page last updated at 00:07 GMT, Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Nasa tests Aberdeenshire find for life on Mars clues


Nasa scientists test Macaulayite in an Aberdeenshire quarry for Mars clue

Scientists from space agency Nasa are testing a mineral only found in one corner of Scotland to see if it can provide clues about life on Mars.

Macaulayite is only believed to exist at a quarry at the foot of Bennachie in Aberdeenshire.

Researchers think it could be the same mineral which gives the planet its red colour.

Samples have now been sent to a testing centre in California in an attempt to verify its presence.

Macaulayite was discovered by researchers from Aberdeen's Macaulay Institute in the late 1970s.

Macaulayite at quarry
Tests are being carried out on Macaulayite found in Aberdeenshire

The mineral is formed in the presence of water so if it does occur on the surface of Mars it could provide proof the planet can sustain life.

It is formed from granite which has been weathered by tropical climates from before the last Ice Age.

The team which found it was led by mineralogist Jeff Wilson, who is now retired.

Dr Wilson told BBC Scotland: "It is exciting because this particular mineral contains water.

"It's a very fine grain mineral and water is bound to the inner surfaces.

"There's been a lot of speculation about the occurrence of water on Mars. We don't know but it could be associated with this mineral."

The US space agency Nasa is conducting tests on Macaulayite.

Dr Janice Bishop, a Mars specialist from the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence Institute, said: "All life forms as we know it require liquid water so if we can actually find periods of time or places on the planet where there was standing water then the chance of life having formed increase greatly."

Only limited data has been collected about the surface of Mars, through orbiters and probe landings.

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