Mars, thought previously to be exclusively covered by dark basaltic rocks, has some light rocks too, according to two studies published online this week in Nature Geoscience. The findings suggest that similar light material recently detected by the Mars Curiosity rover is not an isolated occurrence, but reflects widespread magmatic processes on Mars.
Two independent research groups - James Wray and colleagues, and John Carter and Francois Poulet - analysed compositional data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. They identified multiple terrains across Mars characterized by high abundances of light-coloured feldspar minerals. Rocks rich in feldspar have been previously observed only on the Moon and Earth, where they are thought to be the product of complex magmatic activity. The researchers suggest that the martian rocks may be the product of prolonged magmatic activity on ancient Mars, despite a lack of plate tectonics on the red planet.
In an accompanying News and Views article, Briony Horgan writes that the widespread detection of feldspar-rich terrains on Mars “may help scientists understand the origin of the felsic rocks and soils that have been identified at the Curiosity rover’s landing site in Gale Crater.”