Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Mars volcanic deposit tells of warm and wet environment

Date:
October 31, 2010
Source:
Brown University
Summary:
Planetary scientists have found a volcanic deposit on Mars that would have been a promising wellspring for life. The silica deposit clearly shows the presence of water and heat. It was formed at a time when Mars' climate turned dry and chilly, which could mark it as one of the most recent habitable microenvironments on the red planet.

This volcanic cone in the Nili Patera caldera on Mars has hydrothermal mineral deposits on the southern flanks and nearby terrains. Two of the largest deposits are marked by arrows, and the entire field of light-toned material on the left of the cone is hydrothermal deposits. Image Credit:
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/JHU-APL/Brown University

Planetary scientists led by Brown University have found a volcanic deposit on Mars that would have been a promising wellspring for life. The silica deposit clearly shows the presence of water and heat. It was formed at a time when Mars' climate turned dry and chilly, which could mark it as one of the most recent habitable microenvironments on the red planet. The finding is published in Nature Geoscience.

Related Articles


Roughly 3.5 billion years ago, the first epoch on Mars ended. The climate on the red planet then shifted dramatically from a relatively warm, wet period to one that was arid and cold. Yet there was at least one outpost that scientists think bucked the trend.

A team led by planetary geologists at Brown University has discovered mounds of a mineral deposited on a volcanic cone less than 3.5 billion years ago that speak of a warm and wet past and may preserve evidence of one of the most recent habitable microenvironments on Mars.

Observations by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter enabled researchers to identify the mineral as hydrated silica, a dead ringer that water was present at some time. That fact and the mounds' location on the flanks of a volcanic cone provide the best evidence yet found on Mars for an intact deposit from a hydrothermal environment -- a steam fumarole or a hot spring. Such environments may have provided habitats for some of Earth's earliest life forms.

"The heat and water required to create this deposit probably made this a habitable zone," said J.R. Skok, a graduate student at Brown and lead author of the paper in Nature Geoscience. "If life did exist there, this would be a promising spot where it would have been entombed -- a microbial mortuary, so to speak."

No studies have determined whether Mars has ever supported life, but this finding adds to accumulating evidence that at some times and in some places, Mars hosted favorable environments for microbial life. The deposit is located in the sprawling, flat volcanic zone known as Syrtis Major and was believed to have been left during the early Hesperian period, when most of Mars was already turning chilly and arid.

"Mars is just drying out," Skok said, "and this is one last hospitable spot in a cooling, drying Mars."

Concentrations of hydrated silica have been identified on Mars previously, including a nearly pure patch found by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit in 2007. However, this is the first found in an intact setting that clearly signals the mineral's origin.

"You have spectacular context for this deposit," Skok said. "It's right on the flank of a volcano. The setting remains essentially the same as it was when the silica was deposited."

The small, degraded cone rises about 100 meters from the floor of a shallow bowl named Nili Patera. The patera spans about 50 kilometers (30 miles) in Syrtis Major of equatorial Mars. Before the cone formed, free-flowing lava blanketed nearby plains. The collapse of an underground magma chamber from which lava had emanated created the bowl. Subsequent lava flows, still with a runny texture, coated the floor of Nili Patera. The cone grew from even later flows, apparently after evolution of the underground magma had thickened its texture so that the erupted lava would mound up.

"We can read a series of chapters in this history book and know that the cone grew from the last gasp of a giant volcanic system," said John "Jack" Mustard, professor of geological sciences and a co-author of the paper, who is Skok's thesis adviser at Brown. "The cooling and solidification of most of the magma concentrated its silica and water content."

Observations by cameras on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter revealed patches of bright deposits near the summit of the cone, fanning down its flank, and on flatter ground in the vicinity. The Brown researchers partnered with Scott Murchie of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory to analyze the bright exposures with the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instrument on the orbiter.

Silica can be dissolved, transported and concentrated by hot water or steam. Hydrated silica identified by the spectrometer in uphill locations -- confirmed by stereo imaging -- indicates that hot springs or fumaroles fed by underground heating created these deposits. Silica deposits around hydrothermal vents in Iceland are among the best parallels on Earth.

"The habitable zone would have been within and alongside the conduits carrying the heated water," Murchie said.

NASA funded the research.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Brown University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Brown University. "Mars volcanic deposit tells of warm and wet environment." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 October 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101031131958.htm>.
Brown University. (2010, October 31). Mars volcanic deposit tells of warm and wet environment. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101031131958.htm
Brown University. "Mars volcanic deposit tells of warm and wet environment." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101031131958.htm (accessed December 21, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Space & Time News

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Spokesman: 'NORAD Ready to Track Santa'

Spokesman: 'NORAD Ready to Track Santa'

AP (Dec. 19, 2014) Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said that NORAD is ready to track Santa Claus as he delivers gifts next week. Speaking tongue-in-cheek, he said if Santa drops anything off his sleigh, "we've got destroyers out there to pick them up." (Dec. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA's Planet-Finding Kepler Mission Isn't Over After All

NASA's Planet-Finding Kepler Mission Isn't Over After All

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) More than a year after NASA declared the Kepler spacecraft broken beyond repair, scientists have figured out how to continue getting useful data. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Rover Finds More Clues About Possible Life On Mars

Rover Finds More Clues About Possible Life On Mars

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) NASA's Curiosity rover detected methane on Mars and organic compounds on the surface, but it doesn't quite prove there was life ... yet. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Evidence of Life on Mars? NASA Rover Finds Methane, Organic Chemicals

Evidence of Life on Mars? NASA Rover Finds Methane, Organic Chemicals

Reuters - US Online Video (Dec. 16, 2014) NASA's Mars Curiosity rover finds methane in the Martian atmosphere and organic chemicals in the planet's soil, the latest hint that Mars was once suitable for microbial life. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins