NASA’s robotic rover Curiosity recently detected a rock-forming mineral called silica in samples taken from the Martian soil. Scientists believe that the recently found silica deposits on Mars may hint at flowing water.
Silica deposits are a common occurrence on Earth since the mineral is usually carried and deposited by flowing water. But scientists didn’t expect to find it on the Red Planet, too. Jens Frydenvang of the New Mexico-based Los Alamos National Laboratory acknowledged that science currently lacks a ‘full understanding’ of such deposits on Mars.
Frydenvang explained that similar deposits on Earth are often tied to ‘water activity.’ NASA also unveiled that the recently spotted silica is of a rare type called tridymite, which can rarely be seen on Earth. So the surprise was even greater when scientists saw it on Mars.
Researchers explained that such type of silica is found in volcanic rocks on our planet. This is why, there is a theory that the tridymite deposits on Mars may be caused by ancient volcanic activity. But another group of scientists have a different theory.
Elizabeth Rampe and her fellow researchers at Houston-based Johnson Space Center are now trying to prove that the mineral could be created in a laboratory without the need of high temperatures volcanoes involve.
Since June, NASA’s Curiosity has been exploring a barren wasteland called Marias Pass on the Red Planet. After some time, the robotic explorer found two types of overlapped rock layers. After the rover had performed some drills, it found that the layers contained a significant silica deposit.
When the discovery was unveiled to the public, Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists said that the deposits were a scientific puzzle. Albert Yen of the JPL explained that the deposits could be the result of a liquid that leached away other components and left the mineral behind or the mineral was added through other type of activity. Yen added that both scenarios involve water.
Curiosity rover has been exploring and sampling the rocks around the 18,000 ft tall Mount Sharp where the Marias Pass is located since last year. Between 2012 and 2014, the self-driving probe has been scrutinizing the plains at the base of the mountain.
A JPL investigator said that the new data beamed back by Curiosity helped the team gain a larger picture of the Martian environment around Mount Sharp from the first initial years of the mission. On Thursday, JPL researchers told attendees at an American Geophysical Union meeting that the recently sampled rocks may contain ‘organics.’
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