Discovery of an enchanting ‘mineral flower’ on Mars

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[EN VIDÉO] Curiosity: breathtaking views from Mount Sharp
Nine years after landing on Mars and almost as long as it took to pass the floor of Gale Crater, the Curiosity rover continues its journey across the red planet on the slope of Mount Sharp, also called Aeolis Mons. And it continues to bring back unusual images to astronomers wanting to know more than the climatic conditions that may have prevailed on the red planet in the past. (in English) © NASA, JPL

A few days ago rover Curiositystill active on Mars, took the photo very strange: on sandy ground, trampled down winds martians stand tiny concretion mineral in the form of a flower. The concretion, only 1 cm wide, has several branches connected at the base.

However, this is not the first time Curiosity has photographed this kind of formation. For scientists, they are the result of a diagenetic process, which means they are the result of a rearrangement. on the spot from minerals, which leads to the growth of a new crystal. The formation of this type of structures is largely associated with the presence of water saturated with sulfates.

The mineral formation captured by the Martian Curiosity Sol 3396 Sol is created from 6 images taken by the Mahli instrument on the Curiosity 3396 and 3397 Sol rovers. ©NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Martian analogue of our sand roses

In this sense, it may be the Martian counterpart of our roses from sands. The appearance of the formation really resembles an evaporite concretion. Evaporites on Earth sedimentary rocks as a result of deposits that precipitate during the evaporation process liquid supersaturated with chlorides or sulfates (brine). Rock salt is the best known evaporite, but gypsum or anhydrite are also part of this class of minerals. Therefore, evaporites usually form in shallow water bodies subject to strong evaporation and unsatisfactory hydrological regimes, such as lagoons or The Dead Sea.

Well-known sand roses are formed under certain conditions. These magnificent rocks color orange is crystallization gypsum in a generally sandy environment. Thus, sand roses do not form exactly the same way as the gypsum in the middle. Lake. Gypsum crystals grow even inside loose media (such as sand orclay), impregnated ground water level rich in calcium sulfate. As the leaf evaporates, it concentrates in ions until saturation allows minerals to crystallize. Crystals grow by pushing sand around them. Thus we find the roses of the sands in desertburied under several meters of sand.

A small mineral flower found through erosion

A similar process could be the origin of a thin Martian nodule named Thorn salt. Previous studies of similar nodules show that the crystals grew in the soil. But how to explain their presence on the surface today? Just a process of erosion. Over time, the Martian winds wore down the rock until these small concretions were exposed. This concretion, more resistant to erosion due to its nature, now sits on the ground like a small mineral flower with surface of mars.

At another Martian site studied by Curiosity, the composition of nodules of this type was analyzed using instruments. HimKam/LIBS and APKS. It appears, at least for this site, that the concretions are particularly enriched in magnesium (Mg) and several varieties sulfide (FROM). The chemical composition will be mainly MgSO4, what distinguishes these concretions from the terrestrial gypsum of CaSO composition4.

Thus, this type of concretion provides a lot of information about the environment of Mars in the past and, in particular, the presence of water in the form of brine at its base.

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