Tech UPTechnologyObserving minerals could transform the way we search for...

Observing minerals could transform the way we search for alien life


The International Mineralogical Association (IMA), the world congress of the field of study, has defined around 5,800 cataloged species : from pyrite and diamond to hydroxyapophyllite-(K) and ferro-ferri-fluoro-leakeite. It is a collection that scientists have amassed for centuries.


Making sense of the Earth’s development

Minerals are typically distinguished by their unique structure and chemistry. But because each mineral contains information about the Earth from the time the rock was formed, the study authors say, focusing on the origin of minerals may better serve the study of the emergence of life and the evolution of animals. planets.

They have unraveled the mysterious origins of Earth’s minerals and detailed their diverse formation over billions of years, finding evidence of the role of water and rare elements in their formation, as well as 297 that predate the birth of our planet.

The researchers found that water played a dominant role in the formation of more than 80 percent of mineral species and that 41 rare- earth elements, including arsenic, cadmium, gold, mercury, silver, titanium, zinc, uranium and tungsten, They are essential components of approximately 2,400 of all minerals on the planet.


mineral informatics

The build also allowed the team to step back and think about the evolution of minerals from a broader perspective.

Carnegie University researchers discovered that minerals can form in 57 different ways, such as asteroid collisions, evaporation, or oxidation. The list includes the obvious, such as lava products and radioactive decay, but the authors make distinctions between boiled and baked (ie cooking with and without water). Or even derived from the urine or droppings of birds/bats (72 examples). Microorganisms can also leave metallic deposits when they take up specific elements for themselves, or when they break apart compounds in search of a burst of electrical energy.

Each mineral specimen has a story . Each one tells a story. Each one is a time capsule that reveals Earth’s past like nothing else can,” Robert Hazen said in a press release. “More than 80 percent of the minerals on Earth were made up of water, which is therefore of fundamental importance for the diversity of minerals on this planet. By extension, this explains one of the key reasons why the Moon, Mercury, and even Mars have far fewer mineral species than Earth.”

“Water is incredibly important,” says Hazen, adding that the estimate is conservative. “It may be closer to 90 percent.”


life on other planets

The work was funded in part by NASA because of the implications it has for interpreting the development of other worlds through the minerals we can find there. And it is that life leaves its mark on rocks, not only in the form of fossils, but also in its mineral composition.

This means that if researchers see water on a planet like Mars, they can guess that it has a mineral-rich ecosystem, but scientists could identify what minerals are on the Red Planet and then use the new catalog to work backwards and figure out what it was like. their environment in the past. A group of minerals, for example, could explain whether there had been water, or even life.

“Minerals may hold the key to reconstructing all of Earth’s ‘past life’ and predicting the ‘after life’,” and understanding the evolution of minerals “will offer a novel path for us to explore deep space and search for extraterrestrial life and habitable planets in the future”, the authors conclude.

Referencia: Robert M. Hazen et al, On the paragenetic modes of minerals: A mineral evolution perspective, American Mineralogist (2022). DOI: 10.2138/am-2022-8099

Robert M. Hazen et al, Lumping and splitting: Toward a classification of mineral natural kinds, American Mineralogist (2022). DOI: 10.2138/am-2022-8105

Journal information: American Mineralogist

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