NASA rover "Curiosity": Researchers celebrate "incredible" discovery on Mars
Created: 01/15/2023 04:52
By: Tanya Banner
The NASA rover "Curiosity" has been exploring Mars since 2012. (Archive image © NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Opal exists on Mars, new study shows.
The find can play an important role in the future, especially for space travel.
Tempe - On Earth, opal is used as a gemstone, and the material is used to make blue jewelry, among other things.
But the material is also found on Mars, as a new study shows.
Because of its composition, however, it could have a completely different – and significantly more important – meaning there than on Earth.
Some time ago, space probes orbiting Mars provided the first indications of possible opal deposits on the red planet.
But only now has a research team been able to prove that the semi-precious stones actually exist on Mars.
A research team led by Travis Gabriel from Arizona State University evaluated data from NASA's Curiosity rover, which has been exploring Mars since 2012.
NASA's Curiosity rover finds opal on Mars
Specifically, the team was interested in a geological phenomenon in Gale Crater, where the Mars rover is active.
Images from "Curiosity" repeatedly show so-called "halos" - long fractures in the subsurface flanked laterally by lighter sedimentary rock.
Earlier data had already provided indications that the lighter rock could be opal-like, as reported by hna.de.
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The research team led by Gabriel therefore looked at data from the rover that had been collected from such halos over the past ten years, and the NASA rover “Curiosity” also examined other rocks for the study.
The researchers' finding: The light-colored rock consists of silicon dioxide and water - exactly the same materials that opal is made of.
The "halos" on Mars are flanked by opal.
(Archive image) © Malin Space Science Systems/NASA/JPL-Caltech
Opal appears to be widespread on Mars
And the researchers found something else: "Our new analysis of archive data showed a striking similarity to all halos that we observed much later in the course of the mission," explains Gabriel, an author of the study, which was published in the
Journal of Geophysical Research: planets
has been published.
"It was incredible to see that these fracture networks are so widespread and probably full of opal," the researcher is quoted as saying in a statement from his university.
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But why is the discovery of opal on Mars so important?
To do this, you need to know how and from what opal is formed: The material can be formed, for example, when silicon dioxide dissolves in water.
Opal is formed in a water-rich environment and consists of silicon dioxide layers that trap water molecules between them.
This water is relatively easy to access: crushing and heating opal can release the water.
For future Martian colonies and astronauts, opal would be an accessible and likely widespread source of water on the red planet -- an important consideration, since every kilogram of cargo saved from having to be transported to Mars represents hard cash.
Opal has even been discovered in the normally dry equatorial region of the planet.
According to the study, the opal examined contains three to six percent water by weight.
The team estimates that the top 30 centimeters of the halo rock could contain up to five liters per meter of water -- water that's relatively easy to extract.
Another unexpected find on Mars could influence the search for life.