Space

Evidence of acidic fog discovered on Mars

Artist's impression of NASA's Spirit rover on Mars
Artist's impression of NASA's Spirit rover on Mars
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Image captured by Spirit displaying three Cumberland Ridge outcrops: a) Larry's Lookout, b) Jibsheet, and c) Methuselah
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Image captured by Spirit displaying three Cumberland Ridge outcrops: a) Larry's Lookout, b) Jibsheet, and c) Methuselah
Images displaying the disfiguration on the surface of watchtower rocks, possibly caused by volcanically induced acidic water vapor
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Images displaying the disfiguration on the surface of watchtower rocks, possibly caused by volcanically induced acidic water vapor
Evidence of gel weathering in Martian rock, where a pre-existing crack has been partially healed due to the gel weathering alteration process
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Evidence of gel weathering in Martian rock, where a pre-existing crack has been partially healed due to the gel weathering alteration process
Graphic overlay displaying variation in iron oxidization
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Graphic overlay displaying variation in iron oxidization
Artist's impression of NASA's Spirit rover on Mars
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Artist's impression of NASA's Spirit rover on Mars

Soshanna Cole, anassistantprofessor at Ithaca College,appears to have discovered evidence of acidic fog altering thesurface of Mars. The discovery was made via an analysis of datacollected by NASA's Spirit rover over the course of its explorationof the Red Planet.

Spirit landed on Marsin January 2004, and, prior to becoming embedded in soft soil, made numerous breakthroughs that revolutionized ourunderstanding of Mars. Eventually, the rover stopped transmitting, with the lastcommunication with the robotic pioneer taking place on March 22, 2010.

As is so often the casewith NASA's flagship missions, Spirit is living up to its name, andcontinuing to provide insights into the Martian environment longafter falling into its perennial slumber.

Cole analyzed datacollected by Spirit from a dozen locations in theCumberland Ridge and the Husband Hill summit focusing on "watchtowerclass" rocky outcrops. It was discovered that the formationsexhibited notable abnormalities that hinted at a strangely Earth-likeprocess occurring on the Red Planet.

Images displaying the disfiguration on the surface of watchtower rocks, possibly caused by volcanically induced acidic water vapor
Images displaying the disfiguration on the surface of watchtower rocks, possibly caused by volcanically induced acidic water vapor

It is believed that achemical reaction between volcanically induced acidic water vapor,otherwise known as vog, and the watchtower class outcrops couldaccount for the abnormalities. The phenomenon is similar to instancesof vog occurring on Earth created by the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii.

When the vapor landedon the rocks, it is possible that it had the effect of oxidizing theiron present in the watchtowers, causing the mineral deposits tolose their shape, and take on a gel-like consistency.

Once the water from thevog evaporates, the gel essentially becomes a cementing agent,hardening to form unusual patterns on the rock surface. According toCole the process happened incrementally over prolonged periods oftime.

Variations in the levelof iron oxidization in the distinctive rocks could be the result ofdiffering exposure to the elements. For example, rocks that are moreexposed to sunlight, the gel evaporates faster, allowing for lessoxidization.

Source: The Geological Society of America

2 comments
Lbrewer42
Thank you for a good article that keeps the science in perspective my making sure to mention this is all a highly educated guess and not proven fact. So many articles concerning the media's pets nowadays hide the fact of their ideas being theory and not proven. It helps to sway pubic opinion. Your article, on the other hand, is a good, truly scientific work of journalism.
darkstar01
If there really were Acidic fog, wouldn't it effect the tired and solar panels on the rover? I mean you would have noticeable pitting which would be more than obvious using the high res cameras.(The tired look rubber, and rubber is susceptible to acids) I don't know, maybe I'm just stating the obvious :)