- Ore resources on Mars
How deposits are made
A strong tenet of basic geology is that ore deposits are produced with the help of large amounts of heat. On Mars, heat can come from molten rock moving under the ground and from crater impacts. Liquid rock under the ground is called magma. When magma sits in underground chambers, slowly cooling over thousands of years, heavier elements sink. These elements, including copper, chromium, iron, and nickel become concentrated at the bottom. When the mass of magma has cooled down and has mostly frozen or crystallized into a solid, a small amount of liquid remains. This liquid bears important substances such as lead, silver, tin, bismuth, antimony. When magma is fresh and hot, many elements are free to move. Later, as cooling proceeds, the elements hook up or bind with each other to form chemical compounds or minerals. Some hook up quickly, others much later. Because some elements do not fit easily into minerals (some are just too big), they often exist as free elements even after nearly all the other elements have formed minerals. These remaining elements are called incompatible elements. Some of them are quite useful for our species: niobium, a metal used in producing superconductors and specialty steels, lanthanum and neodymium used by Toyota to build its Prius cars, europium for television monitors and energy-efficient LED light bulbs  Sometimes minerals are so hot in the magma chamber that they are in the form of a gas. Others are mixed with water and sulfur. The gases and mineral-rich solutions eventually work their way into cracks and become valuable minerals veins. Ore minerals, including the incompatible elements, remain dissolved in the hot solution, then crystallize out when the solution cools. Hot liquids can hold much more solid in solution, just as hot tea can hold more sugar then cold tea. Deposits created by means of these hot solutions are called hydrothermal deposits. Some of the world's most significant deposits of gold, silver, lead, mercury, zinc, and tungsten started out this way. Nearly all the mines in northern Black Hills of South Dakota came to be because of hot water desposits of valuable minerals. Cracks often form when a mass of magma cools because magma, like most substances, contracts when it cools. Cracks occur both in the frozen magma mass and in the surrounding rocks, so ore is deposited in any kind of the rock that happens to be nearby, but the ore minerals first had to be concentrated by way of a hot, molten mass of magma.
Molten rock on Mars
The surface of Mars displays areas of great heat in the past with its huge volcanoes, including Olympus Mons--the largest volcano in the solar system. Even Ceraunius Tholus, one of its smaller volcanoes, nears the height of Earth's Mt. Everest.
Lava flow, as seen by THEMIS. Note the shape of the edges
What's more there is strong evidence for much more widespread sources of heat in the form of dikes, which indicate that magma traveled under the ground. Dikes take the shape of walls and cut across rock layers. In some cases dikes on Mars have become exposed by erosion.
Straight ridges may be dikes in which liquid rock once flowed. Image is of Huo Hsing Vallis in Syrtis Major, as seen by THEMIS.
Dike near the crater Huygens shows up as narrow dark line running from upper left to lower right, as seen by THEMIS.
Large areas of Mars contain troughs, called fossa, which are classified as grabens by geologists. They stretch thousands of miles out from volcanoes. It is believed that dikes helped with the formation of grabens. Many, maybe most, of the grabens had dikes under them. One would expect dikes and other igneous intrusions on Mars because geologists believe that the amount of liquid rock that moved under the ground is more than what we see on the top in the form of volcanoes and lava flows. On Earth, vast volcanic landscapes are called "large Igneous Provinces" (LIP's); such places are sources of nickel, copper, titanium, iron, platinum, palladium, and chromium. Mars's Tharsis region contains a group of giant volcanoes, is considered to be an LIP.
Cerberus Fossae in the Elysium quadrangle, as seen by HiRISE
Heat from impacts
Besides heat generated by molten rock, Mars has had much heat produced when asteroids impacted its surface making giant craters. The area around a large impact may take hundreds of thousands of years to cool.
During that time, ice in the ground will melt, heat, dissolve minerals, then deposit them in cracks or faults that were produced with the impact. Studies on the earth have documented that cracks are produced and that secondary minerals veins are filled in the cracks. Images from satellites orbiting Mars have detected cracks near impact craters. The surface of Mars contains abundant evidence of a wetter climate in the past along with ice frozen in the ground. NASA's Mars Odyssey actually measured the distribution of ice from orbit with a gamma ray spectrometer.ref>http://mars.jpl.nasa.nasa.gov/odyssey/newsroom/pressreleases/20020528a.html</ref> This process, called hydrothermal alteration has been found in a meteorite from Mars. Research, published in February 2011, detailed the discovery of clay minerals, serpentine, and carbonate in the veins of a Nakhlite martian meteorite. The Phoenix lander, whose rocket engine blast actually exposed a layer of ice, watched ice melt (the ice disappeared by sublimation).
False colour of Hellas Planitia.jpeg
Hellas Basin with graph showing the great depth of the crater. It is the deepest crater on Mars.
Direct evidence for valuable materials
It has for some time been accepted by the scientific community that a group of meteorites came from Mars. As such, they represent actual samples of the planet and have been analyzed on Earth by the best equipment available. In these meteorites, called SNCs, many valuable elements have been detected. Magnesium, Aluminium, Titanium, Iron, and Chromium are relatively common in them. In addition, lithium, cobalt, nickel, copper, zinc, niobium, molybdenum, lanthanum, europium, tungsten, and gold have been found in trace amounts. It is quite possible that in some places these materials may be concentrated enough to be mined.
The Mars landers Viking I, Viking II, Pathfinder, Opportunity Rover, and Spirit Rover identified aluminium, iron, magnesium, and titanium in the Martian soil. Opportunity found small structures, named "blueberries" which were found to be rich in hematite, a major ore of iron. These blueberries could easy be gathered up and reduced to metallic iron that could be used to make steel.
Dark sand dunes are common on the surface of Mars. Their dark tone is due to the volcanic rock called basalt. The basalt dunes are believed to contain the valuable minerals chromite, magnetite, and ilmenite. Since the wind has gathered them together, they do not even have to be mined, merely scooped up. These minerals could supply future colonists with chromium, iron, and titanium.
Wide view of dunes in Noachis, as seen by HiRISE.
Theoretically, valuable ore resources exist on Mars. Moreover, we can predict where to look for them, such as around craters and near volcanic regions. As more images are gathered, we will be able to better map the locations of smaller structures, such as dikes, that indicate intrusive (under the surface) igneous activity. Later, flying unmanned craft with gravity and magnetic measuring devices will be able to determine the exact locations of mineral deposits. These devices were employed by American scientists to discover deposits of iron, copper, niobium, and gold in Afghanistan.
- Water on Mars
- Geology of Mars
- Vredefort crater
- Impact crater
- Ore genesis
- hydrothermal circulation
- Igneous differentiation
- Dike (geology)
- Franklin dike swarm
- fossa (geology)
- asteroid belt
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