“Analyzing data from an X-ray diffraction instrument on the rover that identifies minerals, scientists detected significant amounts of a silica mineral called tridymite,” NASA said on Wednesday.
A silicon dioxide mineral, the tridymite found by NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover in the Gale Crater is a truly baffling finding since on Earth such elements originate from extremely hot volcanoes after their lava comes in contact with ocean water.
On Earth, tridymite is formed at high temperatures in an explosive process called silicic volcanism. The combination of high silica content and extremely high temperatures in the volcanoes creates tridymite,” said Richard Morris, NASA planetary scientist at Johnson and lead author of a paper on the discovery, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said, according to NASA’s website.
Thus the volcanic history of Mars may soon be reconsidered due to the newly-obtained data. At the same time the paper encourages specialists to pay special attention to the way tridymite forms, since on Mars the familiar process may go differently.
I always tell fellow planetary scientists to expect the unexpected on Mars,” said Doug Ming, chief scientist at the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science (ARES) Division at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and co-author of the paper.
“The discovery of tridymite was completely unexpected. This discovery now begs the question [sic] of whether Mars experienced a much more violent and explosive volcanic history during the early evolution of the planet than previously thought,” he added.
Meanwhile, the scientists seem certain that the mineral is tridymite since it underwent through a chemical analysis and was also X-rayed to confirm its identity.
The surface of Mars doesn’t have plates that shift and collide like those on Earth, which leads to volatile volcanoes and earthquakes. Mars’s seismic record was previously thought to be quite poor, however, the scientists will probably have to take a fresh look at our neighbor.
The rover is currently on its way up a hill called Mount Sharp, as the scientist are willing to see if it will be able to find more samples of tridymite.