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Thursday, November 4, 2010

A volcano on Mars could be habitable

The brutal weather on Mars changed some 3,500 million years ago and went from being relatively warm and humid to be dry and cold. So says a team of planetary geologist at Brown University (USA), which found that large amounts of a mineral deposit in a volcanic cone Mars shows that in that distant past the Red Planet had microenvironments that were habitable.

Data on the composition of the cone, in the Nili Patera caldera, were collected by the NASA probe Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which identified a hydrated mineral (silica), indicating that there was water at some point. It is, so far, the clearest evidence of hydrothermal environment on Mars, as a plume of steam.

According to scientists, these environments could have been suitable for primitive life forms such as that happened on Earth, according to JR Skok, first author of the work in the journal Nature Geoscience. " "If there was life there, this would be a good promise for finding microbial mortuary," he said.

So far, no research has been able to conclude whether there was life on Mars in the past, but findings like this added evidence that if there were places and times that could have existed in the form of microbes. This is the case of volcanic deposit, in an area called Syrtis Major.

Other concentrations of hydrated silica had been found in 2007 by Rover Spirit, but this is the first record intact with the original mineral. The cone rises 100 meters from the floor of the Nili Patera caldera. Before the formation of the lava flowed across the plains. The cone had grown after the underground magma flows that erupted. "It's like a history book: we can read how it came across the volcanic system in the past," says Jonh Mustard, co-author.

The cooling and solidification of magma concentrated most of its silica and water. The observations of the chambers of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter revealed bright deposits near the summit of the cone. Brown researchers collaborated with Scott Murchie, from John Hopkins University, to discuss these shows bright with a spectrometer that is in orbit, CRISM.

The silica can dissolve, transport and concentrate with hot water or steam. The hydrated compound detected by the spectrometer at the upstream locations indicated that the smoke that arose from the heat created underground deposits. In fact, in Iceland there are silica deposits around hydrothermal vents that are very similar to the Martians. "The habitable zone would have been in and near the tubes that carry hot water,"

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