South Dakota Mines researchers replicate Martian magma conditions, unearthing critical minerals in experiment

One of the tools helping to replicate Martian magma and the degassing process.
One of the tools helping to replicate Martian magma and the degassing process.(Humberto Giles-Sanchez)
Published: Sep. 4, 2023 at 6:10 PM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - Space, an empty void with what we perceive to be big floating rocks lightyears apart from each other. An associate professor, along with a former graduate student at South Dakota Mines, have been able to simulate Martian conditions to discover surprising minerals around fumaroles on the red planet.

An astronomical finding related to geology could lead to a better understanding of the planetary composition of other planets in our solar system by experimentally mimicking the conditions of volcanic activity on those planets. That’s because without physical samples, there is only so much the scientific community can theorize when it comes to the minerals of that planet, but with this experiment and the replication of the degassing mechanisms, it is found that the Martian magmas are capable of producing various “critical” minerals such as germanium, zinc, and lithium.

“The volcanic activity that we simulated is bringing some of the critical minerals to the surface. We’ve figured out what minerals we can produce with this process, so now we know how to produce those alteration minerals on Mars. That’s something we know. This can be directly applicable as we try to model our earth and the processes of our earth’s geological processes,” explained South Dakota Mines associate professor for geology & geological engineering Dr. Gokce Ustunisik.

By using data collected by satellites and doing these experiments in a piston cylinder to replicate the pressures and temperatures needed to recreate the Martian magma, research shows that the volcanic processes that happen here on Earth are very similar to those on planets like Mars. Further helping pinpoint the area of research on the red planet if we were to send a manned mission in the near future.

“So they will be going to different locations where we studied the Lucien and Gale craters, so they can collect more information from there, and then they can maybe right now get some data or samples from there,” explained Ustunisik.

While those missions are still way down the line, another key aspect of the findings involving the lab-made Martian magma is getting a better understanding of the hunk of rock we are on right now, Earth.

“We do these kinds of studies, especially experimental studies when we are studying the very early pieces of the planet and trying to understand how they get together to become a planet,” explained Ustunisik.

The research was funded by the NASA-Emerging Worlds grant and the South Dakota Space Consortium grant. But while the research continues to be worked on, these early findings bring us a little closer to understanding the geology of not only our planet but others in our solar system.

If you are interested in reading more about this particular experiment you can click on this link here or you can head to the South Dakota Mines website where you can get a full glimpse of the experiment.