Contact Details

Mr Andy Swain

The University of Manchester

0161-275 2018

Scientists from The University of Manchester have found traces of sea water in a
meteorite that fell in Morocco in 1998. This discovery shows that the necessary
conditions for life in the Universe may have existed much earlier than previously

The team found salt crystals containing pockets of brine within the “Zag” meteorite,
which fell in Morocco in 1998. Using radioisotope dating, the Manchester team, working
with a colleague at the Natural History Museum, determined that the salt crystals
formed within two million years of the solar system’s birth.

If this age is correct, this would mean that the dust, gas and ice swirling around the
new-born sun clumped together into rocky fragments far more quickly than researchers
have assumed. These fragments were the parent bodies for primitive meteorites and
the essential building blocks for asteroids and planets.

In the scenario proposed by Dr James Whitby of the Department of Earth Sciences, and
his colleagues, the parent body for the “Zag” meteorite formed rapidly into a rocky mass
containing water and radioactive isotopes. The isotopes’ decay generated enough heat
to melt any ice within the rock, and soon caused the liquid to evaporate altogether. The
salt crystals (mainly sodium chloride) formed during the evaporation process, similar to
the way halite forms when sea water evaporates here on Earth.

In the report of the study in the journal “Science”, the research team proposed that the
salt crystals grew very quickly on a newly formed asteroid that had just been formed by
the collision of smaller particles. About 300 million years later, another large impact
smashed the loose fragments together into a more solid conglomerate, a piece of
which became the Zag meteorite.

The presence of liquid water on the meteorite has important implications for
understanding the geology of moons and planets with large amounts of heat in their
interiors. Volcanic activity is closely linked with the availability of water, which plays a
major role in the formation of magma.

Notes for Editors
For further information, please contact Dr James Whitby, Department of Earth Sciences,
on 0161-275 3842, or Andy Swain, International and Public Relations Office, on
0161-275 2018.