(ORDO NEWS) — The results of numerous laboratory analyzes of minerals found in samples from Antarctica may give scientists a better understanding of the surface and underground environment of Mars and pinpoint the location of potentially habitable underground regions, says Elizabeth K. Sklute, a researcher at the Planetary Science Institute.
Jill Mikuki of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville collected seawater samples from Blood Falls at the endpoint of Taylor Glacier, Antarctica. It flows from an underground reservoir that has been isolated for perhaps thousands of years.
The flow of sea water deposits material, which is the surface manifestation of the underground environment, in which a microbial community thrives. Initially, there was water, but over time, the deposits on the surface turn red, which gave the name Blood Falls (Bloody Falls).
The samples were further characterized using microprobe and inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy for chemical analysis, as well as X-ray diffraction, scanning electron microscopy and transmission electron microscopy for mineralogy, crystallography and chemistry analysis.
“We take each of these little pieces of information and glue them together to form a coherent image, because one method can tell you really well if certain things are there, and another can completely miss something, simply because the connections or atoms do not respond to such energies,” the scientists explain.
“By combining these methods, we have determined the detailed mineralogical composition of this Mars analogue and learned that the deposit is composed mainly of carbonates, and that the red color of Blood Falls is due to the oxidation of dissolved iron ions (Fe2+) by exposure to air, probably in combination with other ions.
Instead of forming ferruginous (Fe3+) minerals, which normally occurs on Earth, seawater turns into amorphous (no long-range structure) nanospheres containing iron and a variety of other elements such as chlorine and sodium.
Amorphous materials have been found throughout the Gale crater on Mars by the Curiosity rover,” said Sklute. “To date, we have not been able to determine what the amorphous material on Mars is made of. Finding something similar in the natural environment on Earth is very interesting.
We don’t say that it is a biosignature because it is not produced by microbes, but rather by the chemistry in which microbes live. However, this gives us a clue as to where to look for another frozen world,” Sklyut said.
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