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Acid fog dissolved rocks on Mars

New research shows that acid fog, not water erosion, dissolved rocks on Mars

Mars Husband Hill Mars Landscape
Credit: NASA

Scientists are pretty confident that there was once flowing liquid water on Mars. If true, this opens up a whole range of possibilities, including the possibilities of life on Mars, flowing rivers, and collected oceans. Oh, and acid fog, which may have dissolved many of the rocks on the Red Planet.

It now appears that the trace amounts of water found in Mars atmosphere is, in some cases, combining with acidic vapors from volcanoes. Once combined, the two combine to form a deadly duo, especially if you happen to be a rock, as the fog has been dissolving parts of the landscape.

Interestingly, this conclusion isn’t being drawn from the famous Mars Opportunity Rover, but instead an older and now defunct Spirit rover. While the rover is no longer in active use, scientists are still sorting through the vast wealth of data it collected.

Acid fogs can be found on Earth, especially around volcanoes. Hawaii, for example, is known for its Hawaiian vog, with is an acidic form of smog, that is known for being exceptionally strong. The acid fog found on Mars is rather weak, and the process takes place over millions of years. Interestingly enough, the fog appears to have melted down many of the rocks into a sort of crystalline gel that has created a “rock soup.”

Researchers have previously created a wide variety of weather models, including models for acid fog, but finding evidence to support whether such models were real has always been scarce. The recent data analysis, however, is providing evidence that acid fog is real, and is having an impact on the Mars landscape.

The research is being conducted by Shoshanna Cole, who has presented a convincing case for acidic vapors creating an acid soup in an 100 acre area known as Husband Hill. In order to reach this conclusion, Cole had to combine the data from all of the instruments and then create a whole new analysis.

Her work was presented on Monday at the annual Geological Society of America meeting, in Baltimore.