Tuesday , January 26 2021

Two Scottish islands have soil similar to Mars: geologists

Geologists in Scotland say two rural, mountainous islands have the soil matching that of Mars.

Using open-source data from NASA's Mars rover Curiosity, geologists were able to compare soil samples from the red planet to a database of more than 1,500 Scottish soil samples. They found the Martian soil close to two Scottish islands: Skye and Mull.

Skye and Mull are fairly mountainous islands on the west coast of Scotland. Skye is a popular tourist destination and has been featured in several films, including "Prometheus," "The BFG" and "Transformers: The Last Knight."

Benjamin Butler, a digital mineralogist with the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland, said the results make sense due to similarities between the islands and Mars.

"The reason they stand out is because the soils on Skye and Mull form on similar rock to the rocks found on Mars, so in that sense, we would expect to find these similar soils in these ancient volcanic environments," he said.

All three soil samples are rich in basaltic rock minerals, which are commonly found on both Earth and Mars, but it's their interaction with water over time that makes these three areas unique, Butler says.

Butler hopes the discovery will allow NASA scientists to more easily examine Martian soil and find out whether it is capable of supporting microbial life, because now further soil testing can be done on Earth.

"It just opens up a lot of doors to help understand the ancient environments on Mars," he said.

The Curiosity rover landed on Mars in August 2012 with the aim of assessing the geology of the planet and determining whether it was ever capable of supporting microbial life.

Butler thanked NASA for allowing Curiosity's soil data to be publicly available.

"Things should be available freely for others to explore, because without the open data, this combination would not have been possible," he said. "It's a timely example of how unforeseen findings can arise when you share data openly."

More on this story from CTVNews.ca

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