A mineral found in Earth’s mantle could help scientists better understand a hypothetical scenario that asks if Mars was sucker-punched by a massive object, sending pieces of it flying across the solar system.

In a study published this month in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, two researchers from the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan suggest a mineral called olivine — found in asteroids orbiting Mars — could be evidence that the red planet was indeed rocked by something fierce 4 billion years ago. The mineral, called olivine, is found in both Earth and Mars’ upper mantles, bolstering the argument that the olivine found in these asteroids, called Trojans, are the result of a “Martian mega impact.”

Using numerical simulations, the researchers attempted to plot out how much debris could have been spewed out as a result of a large impact. “The authors find that a large amount of debris can be ejected from Mars during such an impact and distributed between ~0.5–3 AU in the solar system,” Susanna Kohler writes in AAS Nova. “Roughly 2% of this debris could originate from Mars’s olivine-rich, unmelted upper mantle — which could indeed be the source of the olivine-rich Mars Trojan asteroids and rare A-type asteroids.”

Olivine
Olivine

While nothing about this mineral is set in stone (no pun intended, oh god), there’s certainly evidence to suggest Mars was indeed smashed by something fast and furious billions of years ago. Scientists have long hypothesized that Mars’ two garbage moons Phobos and Deimos are the result of a large impact. It’s also possible the olivine found in Earth was actually sent over to our young planet after the massive blast sent it flying through the solar system. At this point, we need a lot more research to be convinced, but hey, it’s a start.

It’s still unclear what exactly did hit Mars in its early days, if any giant collision even occurred. Some have hypothesized it was a protoplanet large enough to send parts of Mars off into space. Hard to say for sure, because no one was here to blog about space 4 billion years ago. But at least NASA’s InSight lander, launching May 5, will give us a better idea of Mars’ evolution.

We still need a lot more convincing to actually care about Mars’ moons. Please admit they are bad. I will accept no arguments.

Photos via Wikimedia Commons, NASA