Mineral veins found in Mars's Gale Crater were formed by the evaporation of ancient Martian lakes, a new study has shown.

Drill hole into the John Klein target within Sheepbed Member of Yellowknife Bay, with a light-toned sulfate veinlet visible on the back wall. The light-toned veins have been identified as sulfates by ChemCam (Nachon et al.; Schroeder et al.) and CheMin (Vaniman et al.). Drill hole is 1.6 cm diameter. Image is white balanced. Scale bar is 2 cm.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Leicester
The research, by Mars Science Laboratory Participating Scientists at The Open University and the University of Leicester, used the Mars Curiosity rover to explore Yellowknife Bay in Gale Crater on Mars, examining the mineralogy of veins that were paths for groundwater in mudstones.The study suggests that the veins formed as the sediments from the ancient lake were buried, heated to about 50 degrees Celsius and corroded.Professor John Bridges from the University of Leicester Department of Physics and Astronomy said: "The taste of this Martian groundwater would be rather unpleasant, with about 20 times the content of sulphate and sodium than bottled mineral water for instance!"However as Dr Schwenzer from The Open University concludes, some microbes on Earth do like sulphur and iron rich fluids, because they can use those two elements to gain energy. Therefore, for the question of habitability at Gale Crater the taste of the water is very exciting news."The researchers suggest that evaporation of ancient lakes in the Yellowknife Bay would have led to the formation of silica and sulphate-rich deposits.Subsequent dissolution by groundwater of these deposits -- which the team predict are present in the Gale Crater sedimentary succession -- led to the formation of pure sulphate veins within the Yellowknife Bay mudstone.The study predicts the original precipitate was likely gypsum, which dehydrated during the lake's burial.


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