NASA Curiosity Rover spots high concentrations of silica on Mars(+video)

After exploring Mars for over three years, NASA’s Curiosity rover has made two absolutely intriguing discoveries. The robotic detective deployed by the space agency has found huge amounts of silica and another mineral called tridymite on the surface of the Red Planet. Scientists are saying that these latest discoveries by Curiosity might help them in determining how water formed, traveled, and finally froze or vanished from Mars’ surface.

For the first time in the past several months, the Mars rover has spotted high concentrations of the rock-forming mineral silica on the planet. For those who don’t know: silica is composed of oxygen and silicon and is known to be deposited by water.

Astro-geologist Jens Frydenvang, who is currently working at the New Mexico-based Los Alamos National Laboratory, said that the scientists don’t yet know what this discovery actually mean. He continued by saying that as far as our planet Earth is concerned, every single environment, where such high quantity of silica is found, has a water activity of some sort and added that often such environments turn out to be great habitat for microbial life.

In another major finding, the NASA rover discovered a mineral called tridymite on Mars. Tridymite is found very scarcely on our home planet Earth and before this, it was never found on the Red Planet. A portion of the silica discovered in the Martian rock Buckskin, one of the few drilled by Curiosity, is in tridymite.

On Earth, tridymite is found in silica-rich rocks ejected by volcanoes. As a result, some scientists are saying that discovery of this mineral at Buckskin might be the testimony of the fact that Mars has also witnessed the evolution of volcanoes. There are also some scientists who believe that tridymite on Mars might be formed by a different procedure.

NASA’s planetary scientist Elizabeth Rampe, who is currently deployed at the space agency’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, said that the exact process of tridymite formation on Mars can be determined by finding out whether tridymite found in the sediment has a volcanic origin or it has some other source. She added that right now a large number of scientists are in their labs trying to find out whether it’s possible to produce tridymite at a lower temperature.