What is less known is how much water occupied the red planet and what happened to it during its geological march to the present. Mostly, evidence has pointed to a period when clay-rich minerals were formed by water, followed by a drier time, when salt-rich, acidic water affected much of the planet. Assuming that happened, the thinking goes, it would have been difficult for life, if it did exist, to have survived and for scientists to find traces of it.
Now a research team led by Brown University has found evidence of carbonates, a long-sought mineral that shows Mars was home to a variety of watery environments — some benign, others harsh — and that the acidic bath the planet endured left at least some regional pockets unscathed.If primitive life sprang up in pockets that avoided the acidic transformation, clues for it may remain.
Finding carbonates indicates that Mars had neutral to alkaline waters when the minerals formed in the mid-latitude region more than 3.6 billion years ago. Carbonates dissolve quickly in acid, therefore their survival challenges suggestions that an exclusively acidic environment later cloaked the planet.
The carbonates showed up in the most detail in two-dozen images beamed back by the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars, an instrument aboard the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Scientists found the mineral near a trough system called Nili Fossae, which is 667 kilometers (414 miles) long, at the edge of the Isidis impact basin. Carbonates were seen in a variety of terrains, including the sides of eroded mesas, sedimentary rocks within Jezero crater and rocks exposed on the sides of valleys in the crater's watershed. The researchers also found traces of carbonates in Terra Tyrrhena and in Libya Montes.
NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander recently found carbonates in soil samples, and researchers had previously found them in Martian meteorites that fell to Earth and in windblown Mars dust observed from orbit. However, the dust and soil could be mixtures from many areas, so the origins of carbonates have been unclear. The latest observations indicate carbonates may have formed over extended periods on early Mars and also point to specific locations where future rovers and landers could search for possible evidence of past life.
"This is opening up a range of environments on Mars," said John "Jack" Mustard, a Brown professor of geological sciences and a co-author on the Science paper. "This is highlighting an environment that to the best of our knowledge doesn't experience the same kind of unforgiving conditions that have been identified in other areas."
The researchers, including Brown graduate student Leah Roach and scientists from NASA, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, the Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale at the University of Paris, the U.S. Geological Survey, Cornell University and the University of Nevada, have multiple hypotheses for how the carbonate-bearing rocks were formed and the origin of the water that shaped them. They may have been formed by slightly heated groundwater percolating through fractures in olivine-rich rocks. Or, they may have been formed at the surface when olivine-rich rocks were exposed and altered by running water. Yet another theory is the carbonates precipitated in small, shallow lakes. Either way, such environments would have boded well for primitive life forms to emerge.
"We know there's been water all over the place, but how frequently have the conditions been hospitable for life?" Mustard said. "We can say pretty confidently that when water was present in the places we looked at, it would have been a happy, pleasant environment for life."
Richard Lewis | EurekAlert!
Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time
17.10.2017 | University of Maryland
Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging
17.10.2017 | American Association for the Advancement of Science
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
18.10.2017 | Health and Medicine
18.10.2017 | Life Sciences
17.10.2017 | Life Sciences