The discovery of a mysterious mineral on the planet Mars by NASA’s Curiosity rover has baffled scientists. This is because the mineral is formed from silicon dioxide or silica, which are common types of volcanic activity. Photo/LiveScience/NASA
NASA’s Curiosity rover discovered minerals in rock at the heart of the 154-kilometer-wide Gale crater on July 30, 2015. The Curiosity rover drilled small holes into the rock and extracted samples of silver-colored dust.
Curiosity’s X-ray diffraction lab analyzed the dust and detected tridymite, a rare type of quartz made entirely of silicon dioxide or silica. This material is usually formed by certain types 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 exploring Mars,” said Kirsten Siebach, a planetary scientist at Rice University in Houston and a NASA mission specialist. 2022)..
The discovery of tridymite surprised the researchers for two main reasons: first, the volcanic activity of Mars was previously thought to be unsuitable for producing silica-rich minerals such as tridymite. Second, scientists believe that Gale crater was once an ancient lake and has no visible volcano nearby.
“This has scientists scratching their heads as they try to figure out how the mineral ended up at the bottom of the lake,” Valerie Payre, 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 could unravel the mystery. Researchers suspect that an explosive eruption from an unknown volcano launched tridymite-rich ash into the Martian sky, then plunged into the ancient lake in Gale crater.
When ash falls into water, it is broken down into its individual parts through a combination of physical and chemical processes. Researchers think this is why the tridymite samples are so pure and uncontaminated with ash.
A similar scenario has been observed on Earth at only one location, at Lake Tecocomulco in Mexico, where tridymite is found within volcanic rock uplifted from the lake floor. If tridymite-rich ash fell into Gale crater while it was still a lake, then the eruption probably occurred between 3 billion and 3.5 billion years ago.
“Explosive eruptions must have occurred within that timeframe,” Payre said. However, recent research suggests it is possible that Gale crater was still a lake until 1 billion years ago.