Feeds

Shiny rocks could hold evidence of Martian life

Always in the last place you look

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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". ®

The Power of One Infographic

More from The Register

next story
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
Jurassic squawk: Dinos were Earth's early FEATHERED friends
Boffins research: Ancient dinos may all have had 'potential' fluff
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.