NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover made an incredible discovery recently. The Curiosity found opal – which is rich in water – in Mars’ Gale Crater along the equator. Martian ice is plentiful near the poles; however, this isn’t the case near the equator – where Gale Crater is located. The rover, which is currently stationed in and exploring the crater, previously sent data on what it found in the crater, which was analyzed by researchers.
In both older and recent Curiosity images, the researchers noticed rings of light-colored sediment – fracture halos. These stood out because of their color, and more testing proved that this light-colored sediment was opal!
Opal is mainly made of water and silica, which leads scientists to believe that at one point there was enough water in the crater fractures that they might have been habitable. Even more exciting – the opal currently in the crater could one day be harvested for the water stored inside. This would offer a source of water to any crews on missions to Mars. Due to the radiation on the planet’s surface, Mars is barren, sun-blasted, and inhospitable to life as we know it. But inside these fractures in Gale Crater, the environment is protected from this harsh and constant radiation.
“Seeing that these fracture networks were so widespread and likely chock-full of opal was incredible,” researcher physicist and former fellow Travis Gabriel said in his statement to Arizona State University.
This evidence of opal leads scientists like Gabriel to believe that these fracture halos were the last places to have liquid water on Mars, and that the planet may have dried up after they formed. On Earth, the water and silica solution that forms opal is found in geysers and hot springs, as well as at the bottom of large bodies of water. It’s even possible to harvest the water contained in opal! According to researchers and scientists studying the Mars’ Gale Crater, a fracture halo just 1 meter in diameter could produce about 1.5 gallons of water from just one foot of depth.
The Perseverance rover, which explores Jezero Crater on Mars, now has a new focus thanks to this discovery. Researchers believe that if opal exists in Gale Crater, then it could potentially exist in Jezero Crater too – especially since the crater was confirmed to have been a lake.
This discovery of water-containing minerals on Mars is definitely out of this world! This is exciting news to hear after decades of exploring the planet. While it may be a while before we see samples of these opal deposits, many people own opal mined from Earth! Opal jewelry is very popular due to its unique opalescence – it’s even October’s birthstone!
If you’d like to add this unique gemstone to your jewelry collection, visit Leo Hamel Fine Jewelers on San Diego Avenue to shop their new and vintage opal jewelry. And if you have loose opals or opal jewelry that you’d like to get appraised, contact us now to set up an appointment with our independent jewelry appraiser.