The mineral veins in Gale Crater on Mars were formed by the evaporation of the ancient lake

Some mineral veins in Gale Crater (Photo NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
Some mineral veins in Gale Crater (Photo NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

An article published in the journal “Meteoritics & Planetary Science” describes a research on the ancient lake that existed in today’s Gale Crater on Mars. Scientists at the Open University and the University of Leicester used data collected by NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity to understand the old conditions in Gale Crater concluding that the environment was similar to the Earth and in favor of the presence of life forms.

It’s not news that Gale Crater was once a lake. NASA presented the analysis of data collected by the Mars Rover Curiosity in that area which indicated that ancient nature in December 2014. This new research focuses in particular on the area of the crater called Yellowknife Bay, already known for ancient conditions favorable to life after NASA presented evidence in March 2013.

One of the factors that convinced NASA scientists that in the past the environment was favorable to life was the presence of various chemical elements important for the development of life forms of the type that we know. In particular a strong presence of sulfur and iron was highlighted. Even on Earth there are microbes that like fluids rich in those elements because they can use it to generate energy.

When the lake in today’s Gale Crater dried, mineral veins remained: the researchers believe they formed as sediments before getting buried, heated at about 50° Celsius and corroded. The evaporation of the lake in the Yellowknife Bay area would have led to the creation of deposits rich in silica and sulphates. The original precipitate was probably gypsum that dehydrated.

The researchers compared the composition found in Gale Crater with that of Watchet Bay sediments, on the Somerset coast, in the southwest of England. The similarities found prove the ancient and varied history of the presence of liquid water in Gale Crater.

Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Project Scientist for the Curiosity mission, pointed out that multiple generations of fluids must have existed, each with a unique chemistry, to explain what was discovered in today’s rocks. In short, it’s a further step forward in the reconstruction of the environment that existed in that area of Mars and another confirmation of the fact that it was similar to the Earth.

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