Feeds

Clay minerals point to vast Martian lakes

Water, water, everywhere

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

A study published today in Nature indicates that large swathes of the ancient Martian highlands, comprising about half the planet, contain clay-like minerals which can only form in the presence of water, demonstrating that the Red Planet once hosted "vast lakes, flowing rivers and a variety of other wet environments that had the potential to support life", as NASA puts it.

Said minerals, called phyllosilicates, were spied by the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) and other instruments aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. They "preserve a record of the interaction of water with rocks dating back to what is called the Noachian period of Mars' history, approximately 4.6bn to 3.8bn years ago", and while they were buried by subsequent volcanic activity during drier periods, impact craters have exposed them to view.

John Mustard, a member of the CRISM team from Brown University, and lead author of the Nature study, explained: "The minerals present in Mars' ancient crust show a variety of wet environments. In most locations the rocks are lightly altered by liquid water, but in a few locations they have been so altered that a great deal of water must have flushed though the rocks and soil. This is really exciting because we're finding dozens of sites where future missions can land to understand if Mars was ever habitable and if so, to look for signs of past life."

The latest results back an earlier CRISM study published in the 2 June issue of Nature Geosciences which demonstrated that Mars was not awash with water, but that the liquid was present on the surface during some considerable time.

A close look at a northern-Mars impact basin called the Jezero Crater using the CRISM and High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment identified "three principal classes of water-related minerals dating to the early Noachian period", viz: aluminum-phyllosilicates; hydrated silica or opal; and the more common and widespread iron/magnesium-phyllosilicates. Significantly, the variations in the minerals "suggest that different processes, or different types of watery environments, created them".

NASA elaborates: "Thousands to millions of years after the clays formed, a system of river channels eroded them out of the highlands and concentrated them in a delta where the river emptied into a crater lake slightly larger than California's Lake Tahoe, approximately 25 miles in diameter."

NASA's image of the Jerezo Crater shows that "ancient rivers ferried clay-like minerals (shown in green) into the lake, forming the delta":

NASA's colour-enhanced image of the delta in the Jezero Crater

Bethany Ehlmann, another member of the CRISM team from Brown and lead author of the Jerezo study, concluded: "The distribution of clays inside the ancient lakebed shows that standing water must have persisted for thousands of years. Clays are wonderful at trapping and preserving organic matter, so if life ever existed in this region, there's a chance of its chemistry being preserved in the delta." ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
EOS, Lockheed to track space junk from Oz
WA facility gets laser-eyes out of the fog
Volcanic eruption in Iceland triggers CODE RED aviation warning
Lava-spitting Bárðarbunga prompts action from Met Office
NASA to reformat Opportunity rover's memory from 125 million miles away
Interplanetary admins will back up data and get to work
LOHAN Kickstarter breaks NINETEEN THOUSAND of your EARTH POUNDS
That's right, OVER 9,000 beer tokens - and counting
Major cyber attack hits Norwegian oil industry
Statoil, the gas giant behind the Scandie social miracle, targeted
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
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.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.