Without a doubt, both scientists and lay people are curious and somewhat skeptical about the mysterious discovery NASA made on Mars. In late 2015, Curiosity drilled into the surface of Mars and discovered tridymite, a mineral. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences just published a detailed analysis of this finding. The report claims the discovery of tridymite could entirely change our understanding of the history of the Red Planet.
Tridymite is a silica mineral that crystallizes at high temperatures and low pressure. This mineral is closely related to the conditions associated with silicic volcanism. On Earth, flowing water and plate tectonics causes these geological processes. However, Mars lacks both of these factors. Right now, NASA is trying to find other terrestrial processes possessed by Mars that can produce tridymite. So far, NASA scientists have not discovered any alternatives.
Other researchers are looking for processes that can produce tridymite at lower temperatures. While it is possible that these scientists will be successful, it is possible that we were completely wrong about the history of Mars. Perhaps the red planet was far more active geologically than we believed. The high levels of tridymite indicate that Mars had water on its surface just like Earth. However, it is important to realize that the environment of Mars is very different from that of Earth. Therefore, not everything that applies to Earth is also applicable for Mars. It is possible that there are many active processes on Mars that we simply don’t understand yet.
To find an answer to this captivating mystery, we will probably need to get another rover to Mars with new instruments and tools.