Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Sopping salts could reveal history of water on Mars

07.10.2004


Epsom-like salts believed to be common on Mars may be a major source of water there, say geologists at Indiana University Bloomington and Los Alamos National Laboratory. In their report in this week’s Nature, the scientists also speculate that the salts will provide a chemical record of water on the Red Planet.



"The Mars Odyssey orbiter recently showed that there may be as much as 10 percent water hidden in the Martian near-surface," said David Bish, Haydn Murray Chair of Applied Clay Mineralogy at IU and a co-author of the report. "We were able to show that under Mars-like conditions, magnesium sulfate salts can contain a great deal of water. Our findings also suggest that the kinds of sulfates we find on Mars could give us a lot of insight into the history of water and mineral formation there."

The scientists learned that magnesium sulfate salts are extremely sensitive to changes in temperature, pressure and humidity. For that reason, the scientists argue that information contained in the salts could be easily lost if samples were brought back to Earth for study. Instead, they say, future missions to Mars should measure the properties of the salts on site.


The existence of magnesium sulfate salts on Mars was first suggested by the 1976 Viking missions and has since been confirmed by the Mars Exploration Rover as well as the Odyssey and Pathfinder missions. One way to quash remaining doubts that the salts are really there, however, would be to equip a Martian rover with an X-ray diffractometer -- an instrument that analyzes the properties of crystals. Coincidentally, such a device could also be used to examine magnesium sulfate salts on Mars. Bish and collaborators from NASA Ames and Los Alamos are currently developing a miniaturized X-ray diffractometer with NASA funding.

Some magnesium sulfate salts trap more water than others. Epsomite, for example, has the most water in it -- 51 percent by weight -- while hexahydrite and kieserite have less (47 percent and 13 percent by weight, respectively). The proportion of water to magnesium sulfate affects the chemical properties of the different salts.

While varying temperature, pressure and humidity inside an experimental chamber, the scientists studied how the different magnesium salts transform over time.

When temperature and pressure inside an experimental chamber were lowered to Mars-like conditions (minus 64 degrees Fahrenheit, and less than 1 percent of Earth’s normal surface pressure), crystals of epsomite initially transformed into slightly less watery hexahydrite crystals and then became disorganized, but they still contained water. In contrast, "kieserite doesn’t let go of its water very easily, even at very low pressure and humidity or at elevated temperatures," Bish said.

But when the scientists increased humidity inside the experimental chamber, they found that kieserite transformed into hexahydrite and then epsomite, which have more water.

Bish and his Los Alamos colleagues believe that the proportion and distribution of hexahydrite, kieserite and other magnesium sulfate salts on Mars may hold a record of past changes in climate and whether or not water once flowed there. However, kieserite might not be preserved through cycles of wetting and drying because of its ability to rehydrate to hexahydrite and epsomite, which can then become amorphous through drying.

Los Alamos National Laboratory geologists David Vaniman, Steve Chipera, Claire Fialips, William Carey and William Feldman also contributed to the study. It was funded by LANL Directed Research and Development Funding and NASA Mars Fundamental Research Program grants.

David Bricker | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.indiana.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht NASA's AIM observes early noctilucent ice clouds over Antarctica
05.12.2016 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht GPM sees deadly tornadic storms moving through US Southeast
01.12.2016 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

IHP presents the fastest silicon-based transistor in the world

05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

InLight study: insights into chemical processes using light

05.12.2016 | Materials Sciences

High-precision magnetic field sensing

05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>