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`Early Mars not as habitable as thought`

Last Updated: Monday, September 10, 2012 - 12:04

Johannesburg: Contrary to what many scientists believe, a new study has argued that early Mars may have been a hostile and volatile place with frequent volcanic outbursts.

Earlier research had theorised that certain minerals detected on the surface of the Red Planet indicated the presence of clay formed when water weathered surface rock some 3.7 billion years ago.

This led to some scientists believing that the planet was warmer and wetter then, and possibly could have nurtured life forms.

But new research by a team from France and the United States said the minerals, including iron and magnesium, might instead have been deposited by water-rich lava, a mixture of molten and part-molten rock beneath Earth’s surface, News 24 reported.

Alain Meunier of France’s Universite de Poitiers and a team studied clay minerals at Mururoa atoll in French Polynesia that seem similar to Martian examples, and showed they were formed from precipitation of lava.

The same process has also occurred at other locations on Earth, including the Parana basin in Brazil, according to the study published in Nature Geoscience.

“To crystallise, clays need water but not necessarily liquid water. In other words, clays are not exclusively typical of soils or altered rocks; they may crystallise also directly from magmas,” Meunier told a foreign news agency.

“Magmatic clays have no climatic significance. Consequently, they cannot be used to prove that the planet was habitable or not during its early history,” the scientist said.

If the theory is correct, it “would imply that early Mars may not have been as habitable as previously thought at the time when Earth’s life was taking hold,” University of Colorado geologist Brian stated.

Recent probes of our neighbour planet have found no liquid water, though ice has been discovered at the poles.

Hynek said only on-the-spot examination of Mars’ clay minerals can provide conclusive proof of their origin.

Two rovers that humans have placed on Mars, Opportunity that landed in 2004 and Curiosity earlier this year, may contribute such evidence.


First Published: Monday, September 10, 2012 - 12:04

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