NASA Mars Curiosity Rover Discovers Pyramid-Shaped Rock, Hinting at Water
The Mars Curiosity rover is making findings every day. Now, it turns out that the first rock it examined on the Red Planet with a pair of chemical instruments was a bit more unusual than scientists first thought. The rock was a pyramid-shaped piece of volcanic rock called a "mugearite," which was unlike any other Martian igneous rock ever found and may hint at water beneath the Mars surface.
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The rock itself is similar to mugearites found on Earth on ocean islands and in continental rifts. The fact that this rock is present on Mars suggests that there might be water deep below the surface; these rocks form in the presence of water.
"On Earth, we have a pretty good idea how mugearites and rocks like them are formed," said Martin Fisk, one of the researchers, in a news release. "It starts with magma deep within the Earth that crystallizes in the presence of 1 to 2 percent water. The crystals settle out of the magma and what doesn't crystallize is the mugearite magma, which can eventually make its way to the surface as a volcanic eruption."
The most common volcanic rocks typically crystallize in a certain order as they begin to cool. For example, this process begins with olivine and feldspar. Yet in the presence of water, feldspar crystallizes later and the magma has a composition such as mugearite.
That's not to say that the rock guarantees that there's water on Mars. However, its presence makes it likely--at least at one point in the planet's history. This, in turn, may hint that there was once life on the Red Planet. Yet that's not all the rock tells researchers about Mars. It also hints at what the Martian interior might be like and how it relates to Earth.
"The rock is significant in another way," said Fisk. "It implies that the interior of Mars is composed of areas with different compositions; it is not well mixed. Perhaps Mars never got homogenized the way Earth has through its plate tectonics and convection processes."
The findings reveal a little bit more about Mars. In addition, it shows researchers a bit more about the potential for life on the Red Planet.
The findings are published in the journal Science.