In July of 2015 we heard from NASA that they had found Opal on the surface of mars. For those that know what Opal is made from will known that Opal is made up of silica and water. Now, 2 months later, NASA has revealed that there is in fact flowing water on the surface of the planet.
That fact that there is Opal and that there is flowing water on the surface of Mars suggests that there is an unknown eco system at work. On earth, Opal is usually formed on the edges of underground water aquifers or near hot Springs. As stated by NASA, they believe the water is rising up from underground aquifers that are rich in salts. Could these aquifers be the source of the martian Opal?
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has footage of what they believe is hydrated silica on the Red planet. On Earth we know silica as one of the foundation elements alongside water for creating Opal. On Earth, Black Opal is created from running water picking up silica which it leaves behind in cracks and voids. As the water evaporates over millions of years it can produce Opal.
The discovery on Mars has actually helped researchers understand Australian Opal. The questions of why Opal formed at such shallow depths compared to other precious gemstones and why the majority of opals can only be found in Australia. According to the Australian geographic when Australia’s inland sea began to retreat over 100 million years ago the drying out increased the acidity levels at shallow depths releasing silica through the weathering of sandstone. Further weathering lowered acidity to levels at which Opal could form the silica gel. This weathering only took place in central Australia and nowhere else. All this leads researches to conclude that Australia’s red center could well be the best example for the surface of Mars.
The orbiter find suggests that water was once present on Mars with the bigger question being that the water should have supported life. So far the Opal found on Mars has been non-precious Opals with no flashes of colour. Opal on Earth has also been to known to do a good job of preserving fossils, maybe Mars Opal will be the same. The good news is that the orbiter will likely look closer into this area as water is a good starting place to look for life, hopefully they find a Mars precious Opal or two.
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