Feeds

Shiny rocks could hold evidence of Martian life

Always in the last place you look

New hybrid storage solutions

Researchers looking for evidence of life on Mars should be taking a closer look at a shiny coating that forms on rocks in the desert, according to scientists at London University's Imperial College (IC).

The team is now calling for these shiny rocks to be added to the "Martian shopping list" on any sample-return mission to the red planet.

The research, which is published in the July edition of the journal Geology, details how a coating known as "desert varnish" forms on rocks, capturing a record of life around it. On Earth, the coating binds traces of DNA, amino acids, and other organic compounds to the surface of rocks in the desert.

Exactly how the coating forms has been a puzzle for many years. Charles Darwin even asked the geochemist Berzelius to investigate it. Now, the researchers at IC have been able to establish that the main component of the varnish is silica. In their paper, they describe how silica is dissolved from other minerals on desert rock surfaces and then gels together to form a glaze, trapping organic traces from its surroundings.

This indicates that life is not integral to its formation, even if evidence for life is trapped within its layers.

Dr Randall Perry, lead author of the research from the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, commented: "If silica exists in varnish-like coatings in Martian deserts or caves, then it may entomb ancient microbes or chemical signatures of previous life there, too. Desert varnish forms over tens of thousands of years and the deepest, oldest layers in the varnish may have formed in very different conditions to the shallowest, youngest layer."

Martian desert varnish would, he added, contain "a fascinating chronology of the Martian setting". ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
Boffins: Behold the SILICON CHEAPNESS of our tiny, radio-signal-munching IoT sensor
Single ant-sized Stanford chip combines radio, 'puter, antenna
Thought that last dinosaur was BIG? This one's bloody ENORMOUS
Weighed several adult elephants, contend boffins
TROUT and EELS in SINISTER PACT to RULE the oceans
Slimy chums form deadly alliance to sweep seas
Drones swarm over bearded Brit billionaire's island getaway
Just to take lovely pictures though, after Richard Branson invests in 3D Robotics
Chelyabinsk-sized SURPRISE asteroid to skim Earth, satnav birds
Space rock appears out of nowhere, buzzes planet on Sunday
California blue whale numbers soar to historical levels, say boffins
Still far too many of them being struck by US ships, mind
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
'Duck face' selfie in SPAAAACE: Rosetta's snap with bird comet
Probe prepares to make first landing on fast-moving rock
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.