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Jarosite. Image: Rob Lavinsky, Wikimedia Commons.

Researchers in Antarctica have stumbled upon traces of jarosite, a mineral commonly found on Mars, which might confirm theories suggesting there is water on the red planet.

According to the study which was published in Nature Communications, jarosite is rarely found on earth and occurs in low-temperature acidic-oxidative weathering of iron-bearing minerals in water-limited settings.

The research team was investigating ice age cycles by drilling 1000 metres into East Antarctica’s Talos Dome ice core.

Jarosite was detected using X-ray absorption testing and electron microscopy in the samples found in the ice core.

The rare, yellow-brown mineral was found stuck to silica-rich particles, which were interpreted as products of weathering in the Talos Dome ice core, which included aeolean dust and acidic atmospheric aerosols.

“…the mineral has been repeatedly identified on Mars and has been regarded as evidence for the occurrence of liquid water because on Earth jarosite forms as the result of low-temperature acidic-oxidative weathering of iron-bearing minerals in water-limited settings,” the study stated.

Mars had previously experienced dramatic shifts in its climate, and it is suggested that the red planet was covered in an ice blanket millions of years ago.

According to the researchers, jarosite on Mars has previously been found in large slabs after dust was blown into the ice blanket, forming jarosite in small pockets.

“…it is reasonable that the formation of jarosite on Mars involves the interaction between brines and mineral dust in deep ice,” the study stated.

While the jarosite discovery may point researchers in the right direction, scientists have not discovered why Mars has large jarosite deposits compared to the scarce quantities on Earth.

The research team, led by University of Milano-Bicocca’s Giovanni Baccalo believe this supports a similar ice-weathering model for jarosite formed on Mars.

“This is the first described englacial diagenetic mechanism occurring in deep Antarctic ice and supports the ice-weathering model for jarosite formation on Mars, highlighting the geologic importance of paleo ice-related processes on this planet,” the study stated.

“Talos Dome ice is isolated from the Earth atmosphere and its conditions, including pressure, temperature, pH and chemistry, provides a suitable analogue for similar Martian settings.”