Traces of ancient hydrothermal activity in the Auki crater on Mars

The area around the Auki crater (Image NASA/USGS)
The area around the Auki crater (Image NASA/USGS)

An article published in the journal “Icarus” describes new evidence of ancient hydrothermal activity presence in the Auki Crater on Mars. A team of scientists led by Filippo Giacomo Carrozzo of INAF-IAPS, Rome, Italy, used images and spectroscopic data collected by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) space probe to identify geological structures and mineral hydrates that confirm that hypothesis.

The Auki crater has a diameter of about 38 kilometers (almost 24 miles) and is part of the Tyrrhena Terra region, in the Tyrrhenum Sea quadrangle. For years, various studies observed a number of geological, mineralogical and morphological features suggesting that when Mars was young in that region there were hydrothermal vents. The problem was collecting enough data using the various space probes orbiting the red planet and study those data to get the evidence.

According to this theory, the areas where water emerged were created about 3.8 billion years ago, during what is called Late Heavy Bombardment, the era in which the inner planets were struck by a huge amount of meteorites. At that time, Mars was Earth-like, and hydrothermal vents could create an environment favorable to life.

Computer simulations conducted in previous studies on the Auki crater suggest that such a kind of activities could have continued for 70,000 years. It’s not long in biological terms but if there was already a potential in the area those conditions would’ve favored further developments.

This new research focused on the presence of geological structures such as polygonal terrains in Auki crater along with minerals that contain water such as phyllosilicates, chlorite and silica. That combination indicates that in the past there were processes that included the circulation of hydrothermal water and the precipitation of minerals in the water table.

In the soil fractures were identified with a different preservation stage on three different elevations that show the same number of formation conditions consequent to changes in temperature. A further confirmation comes from the discovery of hydrated minerals that on Earth can be found exactly in hydrothermal environments and in the Auki crater are correlated with those geological and morphological characteristics.

In essence, this is yet another discovery of a place on the planet Mars where for a certain period conditions were favorable to life. This means that there’s another place where a rover or maybe even astronauts can look for their traces to finally understand if on Mars at least in the past there were life forms.

The Auki crater seen by the MRO space probe (Image NASA)
The Auki crater seen by the MRO space probe (Image NASA)

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