Four white hills of a crystalline mineral, allegedly rare, similar to ‘Martian mounds,’ have recently appeared above the surface of Utah’s Great Salt Lake.
According to researchers, these mounds are expected to remain in that state for a few months before they will vanish again. Scientists believe these hills may be a lot like the mineral forms found on Mars. These structures could conserve signatures of microbes that may have existed in the Red Planet’s saltwater lakes some billion years ago.
The Great Salt Lake in Utah Shows Traits Similar to Mars
The white mounds measure about 3 feet (1 meter) in height and are dozens of feet in diameter. They were first spotted close to the southern shoreline of the Great Salt Lake back in October by Allison Thompson, a park ranger. The discovery was reported in a blog post by Utah State Park officials.
After the state geologists analyzed the structures, they found out that the mounds are layered formations of a mineral called mirabilite, a crystalline sodium sulfate. Even so, the researchers said the structures would disappear soon.
“When temperatures rise above freezing, the impressive clear mirabilite crystals that form the mounds at the Great Salt Lake will dehydrate to form a white powdery mineral called thenardite (Na2SO4),” parks officials said. “As such, these mirabilite mounds will disappear with changing temperatures and the rising lake levels.”
Martian Mounds in Utah
Even though mirabilite has not been discovered on Mars, researchers believe that ancient formations of such hills, similar to sulfate minerals, could still include some fossilized traces of the ancient Martian microbes they suspect the planet hides; that is why the scientists named these structures ‘Martian.’
Mirabilite usually takes shape underneath the salt-rich waters of the Great Salt Lake, but this is the first time ever in recorded history the mineral has appeared as mounds and been spotted above the surface, Mark Milligan, a geologist with the Utah Geological Survey said.
“There are mirabilite deposits every winter, but they are precipitating near the bottom of the lake,” Milligan told Live Science. “They wash ashore, and you get these windrows [ridges] of white, slushy mirabilite.”
Milligan also said that the temperatures on the Red Planet, which are usually placing around minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 60 degrees Celsius), would be sufficiently low to keep such type of minerals steady.