The discovery of a mysterious mineral on Mars by NASA’s Curiosity rover has stunned scientists. This is because the mineral is formed from silicon dioxide, or silica, a common type of volcanic activity. photo/livescience/nasa
Curiosity’s X-ray diffraction laboratory analyzed the dust and detected tridymite, a rare type of quartz composed entirely of silicon dioxide, or silica. This material is usually formed from some type of volcanic activity.
“This unusual discovery was completely unexpected. The discovery of tridymite in Gale Crater is one of the most surprising observations the Curiosity rover has made in its 10 years of exploration of Mars,” said NASA, a planetary scientist at Rice University in Houston. Mission Specialist Kirsten Seeback said. 2022).
The discovery of tridymite surprised researchers for two main reasons: First, the volcanic activity of Mars had previously been considered unsuitable for the production of silica-rich minerals such as tridymite. Second, scientists believe that Gale Crater was once an ancient lake and no volcanoes appeared near it.
“It has scientists scratching their heads as they try to figure out how the mineral ended up at the bottom of the lake,” Valerie Pere, a planetary scientist at Northern Arizona University and Rice University, told a Live Science email.
In a new study, researchers have found an explanation that may uncover the mystery. Researchers suspect that an explosive eruption from an unknown volcano launched tridymite-containing ash into the Martian sky, then fell into the ancient lake at Gale Crater.
When ash falls into water, it breaks down into its separate parts through a combination of physical and chemical processes. Researchers think this is why samples of tridymite are so pure and contaminated with ash.
A similar scenario has been observed only in one place on Earth, at Lake Teocomulco in Mexico, where tridymite is found within volcanic rock raised above the lake floor. If tridymite-rich ash fell into Gale Crater while it was still a lake, the eruption probably occurred between 3 billion and 3.5 billion years ago.
“The explosive eruption would have happened within that time frame,” Pere said. However, recent research suggests that it is possible that Gale Crater was still a lake until 1 billion years ago.