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Martian clay may reveal evidence of water

An intriguing way to study Martian clay may help to learn about past water activity on the red planet.
Martian clay may reveal evidence of water
The investigation of Mars habitability is one of the main issues under study in the red planet, involving high-tech probes and sophisticated instrumentation on rovers. One avenue of study that could help shed light on the matter involves finding out whether clay minerals on Mars were formed through hydrothermal processes. The EU-funded project HYDRO-MARS took on the challenge.

Having conducted an advanced spectroscopic and mineralogical investigation of phyllosilicates or clays from submarine hydrothermal vents here on Earth, the project team then applied its results to infrared (IR) remote sensing data from Mars. It looked at 70 clay samples from the sea bed with similar composition to Martian clay, homing in on 35 top clay samples with the desired characteristics. Key iron and magnesium minerals such as talc and nontronite were given special emphasis.

More specifically, the study involved several types of X-ray analysis and spectroscopy, as well as geochemical, thermogravimetric and microscopic analyses. To begin with, the results revealed new information on the fundamental clay mineralogy of sea floor clays and the nature of minerals therein. They also yielded new insights into the nature of clays on Mars, strongly hinting at hydrothermal processes in some deposits.

Armed with these and previous results, the project published a paper that reveals strong spectral evidence of mixed-layer clays on Mars, in particular kaolinite–smectite mixed-layer clays. The team also published a paper on iron–magnesium clays from groundwater on Mars. The paper supported the idea that hydrothermal environments in the Martian sub-surface should be a priority in relation to future exobiological exploration.

Two more manuscripts on related topics will also be published, which along with the project's final results may radically further our knowledge regarding the history of water on Mars. Ultimately, this could help re-evaluate the possibilities of life in the planet's history, helping to answer one of mankind's most fundamental questions regarding the Universe.

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