STATES CHRONICLE – A new study suggests that the presence of manganese oxide in Martian soil may be evidence that the Red Planet once hosted liquid water and oxygen rich skies.
Study authors explained that the mineral can form only in oxygen-rich environments, which is not exactly matching the landscape we see today on Mars.
Nina Lanza, lead author of the study and researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and her team based the new research on rock sample data gathered by NASA’s Curiosity rover.
The research team noted that Curiosity data clearly showed traces of manganese oxide in the rock samples from the Martian surface. On our planet, the compound can form only in the presence of oxygen.
The latest study confirms the hypothesis of a separate study published last week in the journal Science. That study found that ripples in the sand that can only occur on Mars due to its thin atmosphere were present in a rock layer dating back to 3.7 billion years.
That research suggested that at some point the Red Planet somehow lost its ability of holding atmosphere, which eventually led to water depletion as well.
The two studies are in line with past research which had tried to find how exactly Mars looked like billions of years ago. Researchers were puzzled by fossilized traces of liquid water on the planet such as telltale signs of ancient tsunamis and lake basins.
A 2015 study even speculated that the planet once had 20 percent of its surface covered by an ocean.
Curiosity detected the presence of manganese oxide with help from its Chem Cam tool. The Cam uses laser technology to break rocks into various elements which glow at different wavelengths. The glow of the elements is next analyzed by a spectrometer.
Lanza noted that manganese oxide deposits on Mars had the same structure as those on Earth. In fact, the substance probably formed when manganese was dissolved by water under oxygen-rich conditions.
Lanza said in a recent interview that the deposits suggest the presence of at least two now long gone elements: liquid water and a strong oxidant. Scientists are now trying to come up with theories on the source of the oxygen.
One hypothesis is an atmosphere rich in the element. This theory, however, was challenged in the past because there are no traces of vegetation on Mars whose photosynthesis could have led to an oxygen rich atmosphere.
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