Martian Mineral Samples “Strikingly Similar” to Scottish Soils
Scotland and Mars appear to have a lot in common, and it’s not the cold, bleak conditions…
Scientists have discovered mineral samples on Mars to be similar to soil found in two well-known Scottish locations.
The James Hutton Institute has studied data on Martian minerals sent back by Nasa’s Curiosity rover and compared the samples to its own Scottish soil data.
Researchers described the Martian soil as “strikingly similar” to basaltic soils found on the Isles of Skye and Mull.
The Curiosity rover has been sending back invaluable data since 2011, enabling scientists to gain unparalleled insight into the geological makeup of the Martian landscape.
The rover has sent a number of digital soil samples from the Red Planet throughout its time there.
Dr Benjamin Butler, of the institute’s environmental and biochemical sciences group, explained that mineral data sent back by Curiosity helps to gain an insight into the way in which rocks have been altered by water – a key ingredient for life.
“The rover carries an X-ray diffractometer, which is used to identify minerals in the Martian soil,” Butler said. “The soil minerals are particularly key in this mission since their composition is linked to the way rocks have been altered by water.”
The rover, Butler said, has so far beamed back digital mineral signatures of about thirty soils. Amazingly, he noted, this data is open access despite being “probably the most expensive X-ray diffraction data in history.”
He added: “This allowed us to compare the Martian data to our own Scottish soil dataset,” which allowed the researchers to question whether there are soils in Scotland with similar mineralogy to those found on Mars.
“By comparing each of the Martian soils with all fifteen hundred Scottish soils in our datasets, we consistently find a group of Scottish soil samples that are strikingly similar to those on Mars,” he said.
Mars and Scotland have a further connection, Butler said. Throughout its journey across the Red Planet, the rover has been overlooked by a location on Mars known as Siccar Point.
This site is named after the interesting geological features in Berwickshire that inspired 18th-century scientist, James Hutton, to pioneer his concept of deep time.
This theory would later help to provide evidence that Earth was older than previously believed. At the time, Earth was widely regarded to be around 6,000 years old.
“While it’s fun to establish these connections between Mars and Scotland, this now provides us with the opportunity to use the identified sites on Skye and Mull to better understand the conditions of ancient Mars,” Butler said.