New Australian research suggests Martian minerals may have formed from biological rather than geological origins.
The findings, reported in the journal Geology, indicate the mineral stevensite, which is found on both Earth and Mars, can be created either in hot, highly alkaline volcanic lakes, or by mineralization in living microbes. Stevensite is a magnesium-silicate mineral, used a Nubian beauty treatment for several centuries.
There's an old lake in Morocco where stevensite deposits were mined and distributed by camel caravans as far east as India," says the study's lead author Dr Robert Burne of the Australian National University (ANU). "It's quite possible that Cleopatra used stevensite as a treatment for her skin and hair."
According to Burne, stevensite was detected by NASA's rover missions, which have been associated with spherulites [small spheres of unknown origin]," says Burne.
"But our finding - that stevensite can form around biological organisms - will encourage re-interpretation of these Martian deposits and their possible links to life on that planet," he says.Burne and colleagues at the ANU and University of Western Australia, recently examined a series of reef structures in the waters of Lake Clifton south of Perth.
"Instead of a boiling volcanic soda lake, Lake Clifton was like a 'Garden of Eden', an idyllic location with crystal clear waters and neutral pH," says Burne.
The researchers found the masses in the lake were formed as mineral deposits. "These deposits accumulated over the past 2000 years into rigid reef structures which we've named microbialites, and which are similar to some of the oldest structures formed by life on Earth," says Burne. "Microbialites are the earliest large-scale evidence of life on Earth."
"They demonstrate how microscopic organisms are able to join together to build enormous structures that sometimes rivalled the size of today's coral reefs."