Curiosity (car-sized robotic rover) discovered large amounts of tridymite (oxide mineral) and silica on the Red Planet, which support the theory of Mars’ watery past.
In 2011, NASA’s Curiosity rover was launched from Cape Canaveral and it landed on Mars in 2012. Three years after its landing, Curiosity has discovered a number of interesting things that may help scientists better understand how water formed on Mars, and then either froze or vanished from the planet.
Over the past few months, Curiosity found an abundance of silica, also known as silicon dioxide, which is a chemical compound made of silicon and oxygen. On Earth, silica can be deposited by water.
Jens Frydenvang, an astro-geologist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, said that microbial life is often found in silica, and that on our planet silica is usually present in environments that have some water activity.
A mineral called tridymite has also been found when the vehicle drilled into a rock on Mount Sharp called “Buckskin”. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), tridymite is extremely rare on Earth and has never been spotted on the Red Planet before.
On our planet, tridymite can be found in rocks that come from volcanoes and that are rich in silica. The discovery of the mineral on Mars may explain the evolution of volcanoes on the planet. According to scientists, it is also possible that tridymite formed through a different process on the Red Planet.
Elizabeth Rampe, a planetary geologist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, stated that scientists are currently trying to figure out how tridymite appeared on Mars: whether it was due to volcanic activity, or perhaps something else.
NASA’s Curiosity rover has been traversing Marias Pass, an area on Mars located near the base of Mount Sharp, for seven months now. The rover discovered a light patch of land where the composition of the rocks had 90 percent more silica than anywhere else near or on Mount Sharp.
Albert Yen, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said that boosting the concentration of silica requires the use of water.
Since 2014, the rover has been studying Mount Sharp’s geological layers. Ashwin Vasavada, a geophysicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, stated that after the two-year mission of exploring the mountain’s surrounding planes, Curiosity has now discovered a lot more things about Mount Sharp.
The findings were presented December 17 at the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.
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