picture of the day
False color mage of sulfur-bearing rock.
Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell University
May 15, 2008
Sulfur has been found on Jupiter's moons Io and
Europa. MER A Spirit has recently discovered several
deposits on the Red Planet. How does electricity factor in?
If we could
stand on Mars unencumbered by spacesuits and take a deep
breath what would we smell? Oddly enough, one thing that
would be instantly noticeable is the odor of spent gunpowder
or a burned match head. Mars contains rich deposits of
Sulfur was first
detected on Mars in 1976 by the twin Viking landers.
Chrsye Planitia and
Utopia Planitia revealed a remarkable similarity between
soil samples from the two sites, despite being more than
6000 kilometers apart. Vikings 1 and 2 detected sulfur
compounds of up to 3% by weight in the fine dust. This led
mission engineers to speculate that Mars has had several "homogenizing
events," such as massive dust storms, that have mixed the
soils into uniform beds.
As the MER A
Spirit traveled through an area of deep powder on the way to
"McCool Hill" in 2006, its rear wheel became jammed, causing
it to drag instead of spin. The locked wheel churned the
ground, uncovering some particularly
bright material just below the surface. A chemical
analysis revealed the underlying soil to be high in
magnesium sulfate, what we commonly call "Epsom salt," a
white, crystalline compound.
The majority of
the sulfur on Mars is bound up with iron and magnesium into
sulfates that seem to indicate a "long soak in water".
mission specialists, the magnesium sulfate accumulation
indicates that the mineral either formed in the presence of
water or remained submerged for a long time after formation.
Since Mars was presumed to be a wet planet at some time in
its past, the sulfates have provided theorists with
could have been concentrated by hydrothermal liquid or vapor
moving through the local rocks," said rover science team
member Dr. Albert Yen, a geochemist at JPL.
"Mars The Wet
Planet" is a theory that has become ever more popular
because orbiting satellites and ground-based rovers have
observed features that cannot be created from wind erosion -
especially in light of new conclusions that the atmosphere
on Mars is so thin that it would take a thousand years to
move a "sand dune" a few meters, according to the October
Physical Review E.
On Mars, deep
channels, mesas, ripples and other structures are thought to
be the remains of water flowing on the surface, sculpting
the terrain in the same way as water is believed to erode
planet Earth. Since the theory proposes that there were
oceans of water on Mars (although it was "millions of years
ago"), the chemicals that form in the presence of water here
are presumed to have formed on Mars by the same process.
Despite the contradictory evidence of mineral deposits that
would be destroyed by water, such as olivine, the flowing
water hypothesis continues to guide theories of Martian
Thunderbolts Picture of the Day articles, it was suggested
that electric arcs could have played a major role in forming
what we see on Mars today. A careful investigation into
Valles Marineris, Olympus Mons, Argyre Planitia, Arabia
Terra and both Martian poles has demonstrated strong support
for the electric discharge theory. In other articles, we
concluded that those same electric discharges on Mars could
have transmuted silicon into iron and reformed silicon
dioxide rock layers into the vast fields of hematite
spherules that litter the landscape.
arcs are capable of such transmutation effects, it has also
been suggested that Jupiter's electrically active moon, Io,
has experienced the transmutation of oxygen from water ice
into sulfur, resulting in the gigantic sulfur "volcanoes"
that mar its surface. In reality, according to EU theorists,
the "volcanoes" on Io are the touchdown points where the
plasmasphere of Jupiter completes its electrical circuit
with the moon.
The sulfur on Io
and the sulfur on Mars could be from the same cause. Neither
Io nor Mars have plasma sheaths, which would take up the
stress of solar wind or Jovian electric currents far above
their surfaces. Instead, the currents impinge directly. If
they were stronger in the past, all the chemical compounds
that have been attributed to water may have come about as
the current flow pulverized the materials, compressed them
in z-pinch zones, exposed them to intense shock and magnetic
force fields, and then finally deposited them in layers
following rapid cathode sputtering.
smell is sometimes reported after thunderstorms have passed.
The lightning bolts are strong enough, apparently, to change
some of the oxygen in the atmosphere into sulfur that burns
to become sulfur dioxide, a strong-smelling compound. After
an "electric dust devil" passes by on Mars that same stench
could be present. If our theory of gigantic electric arcs
large enough to carve Valles Marineris is correct, a great
deal of sulfur may have also been created in that cataclysm
and spread around the planet.
By Stephen Smith
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