Clay minerals on Mars could have formed during the creation of the Martian crust itself, long before water flowed on the planet, suggests new research that could rewrite the early history of the Red Planet.
"One of the complications What arises on Mars is that we can not create a scenario in which the surface weather has the capacity to produce the degree of mineral alteration we see," said Jack Mustard, professor at the University Brown in the USA UU and co-author of the study.
Scientists have found evidence of ancient phyllosilicates, or clays, on the Martian surface.
Phyllosilicates are usually formed by the interaction of water with volcanic rock, leading many scientists to conclude that there must have been sustained surface water, groundwater or active hydrothermal systems at some point in Martian history.
But the new scenario, presented in the journal Nature, offers a means to create generalized clay deposits that do not require a hot and humid climate or a hydrothermal system sustained on early Mars.
Backed by laboratory experiments and computer models, the researchers explained how the scenario would have worked.
In the early solar system, it is believed that Mars and other rocky planets were covered by oceans of molten magma.
As the magma ocean of Mars began to cool and solidify, water and other dissolved volatiles would be degassed to the surface, forming a thick, humid atmosphere that surrounded the planet.
The moisture and heat of that high-pressure steam bath would have turned vast swaths of the newly solidified surface into clay.
As the planet evolved over billions of years, volcanic activity and asteroid bombings would have covered the clays in some places and dug in others, leading to the widespread but irregular distribution on today's surface .
To demonstrate that the mechanism they propose is plausible, the researchers synthesized rock samples that coincided with the composition of Martian basalt.
They then used a high-pressure device to recreate the temperature and pressure conditions that may have been present in the middle of the vapor atmosphere created by an ocean of magma.
After cooking the samples for two weeks, the team checked if they had been altered and to what extent.
"It was really remarkable how quickly and extensively this basalt was modified," said lead researcher Kevin Cannon, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Central Florida.
The vapor atmosphere associated with an ocean of magma could have survived for 10 million years or more, the researchers said.
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