Mineral studies suggest a more volcanically active Mars

Nov. 18, 2013 at 3:24 PM

ATLANTA, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- New studies indicate Mars once had oceans of liquid magma and may have taken longer to cool down than thought, U.S. and European researchers say.

Two separate studies published in the journal Nature Geoscience used data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to confirm significant deposits of light-colored feldspar minerals.

Such minerals have been commonly found in only two places in the solar system; the upper continental crust on Earth and in the highlands of our moon.

The feldspar minerals, known as Plagioclases, form on the surface of magma lakes.

Plate tectonics and volcanic hotpots are thought to have created them on Earth, and it is believed they also formed in magma oceans early in the geologic history of the moon.

It has been assumed neither process was a factor in the formation of the Red Planet, but researchers at the European Southern Observatory reported they detected eight separate locations with spectral signatures of plagioclase-rich rocks in the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter data.

Similar finding were reported by scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

"Such feldspar-rich rocks were not anticipated on Mars," Georgia Tech scientist James Wray said.

The discovery suggests similar feldspar minerals identified previously at NASA's Mars Curiosity rover's landing site in Gale Crater are more widespread and could suggest a more volcanically active past for Mars, scientists said.

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