Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Sopping salts could reveal history of water on Mars


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:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Receding glaciers in Bolivia leave communities at risk
20.10.2016 | European Geosciences Union

nachricht UM researchers study vast carbon residue of ocean life
19.10.2016 | University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

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

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>