Gale Crater. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/IRAP/U.Nantes/IAS/MSSSVia the NASA’s Curiosity Rover, the Los Alamos National Laboratory reported the first discovery of a potential “continental crust” on Mars, which may be comparable with continental crust from Earth over 2.5 billion years ago.

“Along the rover’s path we have seen some beautiful rocks with large, bright crystals, quite unexpected on Mars,” said Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Roger Wiens, lead scientist on the rover’s ChemCam laser instrument.

According to NASA, the ChemCam apparatus can fire a laser from 23 ft and identify the kind of rock or the composition of soils and pebbles, measure the chemical elements of the sample and identify ice and minerals with water molecules in their structures, among other functions.  

While Mars has been viewed as a mostly basaltic planet with “igneous rocks that are dark and relatively dense,” according to Wiens, the Curiosity rover identified igneous rocks, dated around 4 billion years old, which were distinctly light in color.

“As a general rule, light-colored crystals are lower density, and these are abundant in igneous rocks that make up the Earth’s continents,” Wiens said.

In a study published in Nature Geoscience, Wiens, along with other French and U.S. scientists, poured through images and chemical results of 22 rock fragments. “They determined that these pale rocks are rich in feldspar, possibly with some quartz, and they are unexpectedly similar to Earth’s granitic continental crust,” according to the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Violaine Sautter, one of the paper’s authors, said the crust samples bear a similar resemblance to Tonalite-Trondhjemite-Granodiorite rock, which dominated the terrestrial continental crust over 2.5 billion years ago.

The Curiosity rover was launched on November 2011 and touched down in August 2012 in Mars’ Gale Crater, where the light-colored rock samples were found.

According to NASA, Gale Crater is prime for exploration due to the layered mountain, which on Earth would be three miles high, in the middle of it.


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