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Researchers discover glass deposits on Mars, possibility of past life on the planet increases

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Washington: In a pioneering feat, researchers have discovered glass deposits on the Red Planet, providing a delicate window into the possibility of past life on the planet.

Using data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), the team from Brown University detected deposits of glass within impact craters on Mars formed in the searing heat of a violent impact.

Previous research has shown that ancient biosignatures can be preserved in impact glass.

“Knowing this, we wanted to go look for them on Mars and that is what we did here. Before this paper, no one had been able to definitively detect them on the Martian surface,” said Kevin Cannon, PhD student at Brown University.

Cannon and co-author professor Jack Mustard showed that large glass deposits are present in several ancient yet well-preserved craters scattered across the Martian surface.

These glass deposits are relatively common impact features on Mars and could be targets for future exploration.

To identify minerals and rock types remotely, scientists measure the spectra of light reflected off the planet’s surface.

But impact glass does not have a particularly strong spectral signal.

“Glasses tend to be spectrally bland or weakly expressive, so signatures from the glass tend to be overwhelmed by the chunks of rock mixed in with it. But Kevin found a way to tease that signal out,” Mustard said.

In the lab, Kevin mixed together powders with a similar composition of Martian rocks and fired them in an oven to form glass and measured the spectral signal from that glass.

Once he had the signal from the lab glass, he used an algorithm designed to pick out similar signals in data from NASA’s MRO.

The technique was able to pinpoint deposits around several crater central peaks.

The fact that the deposits were found on central peaks is a good indicator that they have an impact origin.

Knowing that impact glass can preserve ancient signs of life opens a potential new strategy in the search for ancient Martian life.

“We think these could be interesting targets for future exploration. In fact, we have a particular spot in mind,” the authors said.

The research was published online in the journal Geology. (IANS)

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STUDY: Lakes on Mars dried up 3.5bn years ago

A study reveals that lakes on Mars dried up 3.5bn years ago.

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An image of Mars.
Mars. Pixabay

The discovery of cracks on the surface of Mars by NASA’s Curiosity rover in early 2017 are evidence of lakes that likely dried up 3.5 billion years ago, confirmed a study, revealing details about the red planet’s ancient climate.

In early 2017 scientists announced the discovery of possible desiccation cracks in Gale Crater, which was filled by lakes 3.5 billion years ago.

“We are now confident that these are mudcracks,” said lead author Nathaniel Stein, a geologist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, US.

Since desiccation mudcracks form only where wet sediment is exposed to air, their position closer to the centre of the lake bed rather than the edge also suggests that lake levels rose and fell dramatically over time.

“The mudcracks show that the lakes in Gale Crater had gone through the same type of cycles that we see on Earth,” Stein added.

Representational image for planet Mars.
Representational image. Pixabay

Although scientists have known almost since the moment Curiosity landed in 2012 that Gale Crater once contained lakes, “the mudcracks are exciting because they add context to our understanding of this ancient lacustrine system”, Stein explained, in the paper published in the journal Geology.

“We are capturing a moment in time. This research is just a chapter in a story that Curiosity has been building since the beginning of its mission,” he said.

Also Read: SpaceX to build Mars rockets in Los Angeles

For the study, the team focused on a coffee table-sized slab of rock nicknamed “Old Soaker”.

Old Soaker is crisscrossed with polygons identical in appearance to desiccation features on Earth.

They found that the polygons — confined to a single layer of rock and with sediment filling the cracks between them — formed from exposure to air, rather than other mechanisms such as thermal or hydraulic fracturing, the researchers said.  IANS