While walking the surface of Mars in 2013, Curiosity ran over a very particular type of rock containing manganese. The scientists believe that the chemical has no reason whatsoever to be present on the Red Planet.
The scientists that analyzed the rock composition state that it may contain the proof that Mars once had an oxygenated atmosphere.
Most of the planets in the known Universe have a crust that is composed of basalt. The rock forms when the lava cools down when reaching the surface of the globe.
The manganese rock was found in an area called Caribou from the Gale crater.
While the chemical compound can be retrieved in basalt rocks, it has a very low concentration. The Caribou materials display a significantly high amount of manganese.
The researchers believe that the only explanation for the large quantity of the chemical is the fact that at one time in the planet’s history, Mars managed to dissolve the basalt rocks in the oxygenated water.
The scientists now agree that the Red Planet once had water in abundance. However, oxygen was not thought to have existed on Mars.
At first, the researchers believed that they encountered an error in their analysis. Thus, they sent Curiosity in search for other manganese rocks, and sure enough, the machine brought more evidence.
The rover uses ChemCam to get data on the composition of the rocks, as it pulverizes them first and then makes an analysis of the resulting dust.
The researchers have a couple of hypothesis on how Mars could have got oxygen in his atmosphere. One of them involves the ionizing radiation originating from the sun, which could have split the water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen.
A second assumption was that the hydrogen drifted away, as Mars has a low gravity and no magnetic field. The oxygen might have been absorbed in the rocks, turning them red.
In comparison, on Earth, the microbes were the ones that released the oxygen into the atmosphere, as a by-product of their feeding process. The oxygen deposits became larger and larger, creating a favorable environment for the apparition of life on our planet.
Until now, the scientists usually connected oxygen with life, and they considered a planet with an oxygen-rich atmosphere to have a good environment to foster living organisms. However, the authors of the present study show that the oxygen and life are not mutually inclusive.
For instance, the presence of oxygen on Mars is a result of a different process than the one on Earth. It does not involve microbes or other microorganisms, and it did not lead to a more habitable environment.
The discovery points out that Mars has a completely different history than it was initially believed, and the scientists are now searching for other minerals that may shed light on the complex evolution of the planet.
Image Source: Wikipedia
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