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Future Mars prospectors will likely find mineral riches in some unusual settings, say planetary scientists studying the different ways valuable metals might have been concentrated on the red planet.
On Earth, surface waters, ground waters and even chemicals left by living things play major roles in leaching, concentrating and depositing valuable metals and minerals like iron, gold, silver, nickel, copper and many more. But on Mars there are no oceans or surface waters; no microorganisms either. What's more, the planet is so cold that even groundwater is frozen as permafrost and functions as little more than another mineral in the ground. So where does a starving miner look on Mars for usable quantities of ore?
Try the volcanoes and impact craters, says planetary scientist Michael West of Australian National University in Canberra and the Mars Institute.
"Much of Mars is covered with dust, and we had an incomplete understanding of its mineralogy," said David Bish, one of the scientists monitoring Curiosity's findings from here on Earth at Indiana University. "We now know it is mineralogically similar to basaltic material, with significant amounts of feldspar, pyroxene and olivine, which was not unexpected. Roughly half the soil is non-crystalline material, such as volcanic glass or products from weathering of the glass."
Scientists say the Martian soil at the rover Curiosity's landing site contains minerals similar to what's found on Hawaii's Mauna Kea volcano.