Ancient Volcanic Eruptions Produced a Mineral Deposit on Mars

Ancient Volcanic Eruptions Produced a Mineral Deposit on Mars

Ancient Volcanic Eruptions Produced a Mineral Deposit on Mars
Image Credits: SpaceRef

Scientists found an unusual mineral deposit on the red planet which might help humanity to understand the evolution of the planet.

The ash released by powerful volcanic eruptions is thought to be the primary source of a fascinating mineral deposit located near the landing site for an upcoming Mars rover. According to the researchers who participated in the study, the discovery is quite essential since it could allow scientists to understand more about the volcanic eruptions that took place on the red planet, during the early days. This could also provide more information about the amount of water found in the magma, the groundwater percentage, and the thickness of the atmosphere.

Volcanic Eruptions

Volcanic explosions take place when water vapors and other gasses are dissolved in the magma. It flows beneath the surface of the planet and continues to apply intense pressure until it reaches the resistance threshold of the rock. Once the pressure of the magma crosses that barrier, a powerful explosion takes place that can propel a large amount of ash and lava into the air. Researchers believe that this phenomenon took place in the early stages of Mars when a large amount of water was present to interact with the magma.

Ashfall Theory

As the water started to disappear, the volcanic activity also decreased and was replaced with effusive volcanism (gentle oozing of lava). The Ashfall theory, as it is called, holds true for many clues found so far. The researching team analyzed a region (called Nili Fossae) that have been intriguing scientists for a long time now. The deposit features a large amount of mineral deposit, often found in the interior of the planet. Despite the discovery, researchers are still puzzled about the process which transferred the underground material to the surface. The olivine-rich unit will almost certainly be one of the targets of the Mars rover. Christopher Kremer, a Graduate Student at Brown University who led the research, talked about the importance of this finding in the following words:

“This is one of the most tangible pieces of evidence yet for the idea that explosive volcanism was more common on early Mars. Understanding how important explosive volcanism was on early Mars is ultimately important to understand the water budget in Martian magma, groundwater abundance and the thickness of the atmosphere.”

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

The team used high-resolution images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to have a detailed look at the geology of the mineral deposit. The research showed that the deposit extends across the surface evenly in long continuous layers that drape evenly across hills, valleys, craters, and other topographical features. That even distribution, Kremer says, is much more consistent with ashfall than the lava flow.

A lava flow would be expected to pool in low-lying areas and leave thin or non-existent traces in highlands. According to researchers, the ashfall explanation also helps to account for the deposit’s unusual mineral signatures. This specific mineral deposit showed signs of widespread alteration due to its contact with water— it was altered more than other known olivine deposits on Mars. Kremer said,

“This work departed methodologically from what other folks have done by looking at the physical shape of the terrains that are composed of this bedrock. What’s the geometry, the thickness, and orientation of the layers that make it up. We found that the explosive volcanism and ashfall explanation ticks all the right boxes, while all of the alternative ideas for what this deposit might be disagree in several important respects with what we observe from orbit.”

Future Prospects

Researchers are inclining more and more towards the ashfall theory because the orbital data is in line with it. It might be possible to discover more mineral deposits elsewhere on Mars if the findings are correct. It is speculated that 2020 and onwards are going to be full of discoveries on Mars. Given the intensity of humans to end up on Mars one way or another, it is better if scientists have more information about the red planet. Jack Mustard, the advisor of Kremer, referred to that by saying,

“One of Mars 2020’s top 10 discoveries is going to be figuring out what this olivine-bearing unit is. That’s something people will be writing and talking about for a long time.”

The research could help scientists assemble a timeline of volcanic eruptions and environmental conditions on early Mars which will be extremely important for understanding the evolution of Mars. You can get all the latest information about the Mars 2020 Rover at

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