Soil on Mars ‘strikingly similar’ to that on Scottish islands

The soil found on Mars by a Nasa robot is 'strikingly similar' to that on two Scottish islands. Picture: NASA/JPL-Caltech/PA Wire
The soil found on Mars by a Nasa robot is 'strikingly similar' to that on two Scottish islands. Picture: NASA/JPL-Caltech/PA Wire
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Soil on Mars is “strikingly similar” to that found on two Scottish islands.

Scientists made the discovery after studying data sent back to Earth by a Nasa robot.

Researchers said the Martian samples gathered by the Curiosity rover shared characteristics with the basaltic soils found on the Isle of Skye and the Isle of Mull off Scotland’s west coast.

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“We consistently find a group of Scottish soil samples that are strikingly similar to those on Mars,” Dr Benjamin Butler said.

The discovery was made by a team of scientists at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen, which cross-checked minerals found on Mars with its own comprehensive data for Scottish soils.

The Curiosity rover landed on the Red Planet in August 2012 with the aim of identifying whether Earth’s nearest planetary neighbour ever possessed conditions suitable for microbial life.

To help its search, it was equipped with an X-ray diffractometer, which is used to identify minerals in the soil and how their composition may have been altered by water in the past.

Soil on the Isle of Skye was found to be similar in make up to that on Mars

The robot has since beamed digital mineral signatures of around 30 Martian soils back to Earth, allowing scientists across the world to study their make up.

Dr Benjamin Butler, of the Hutton Institute’s environmental and biochemical sciences group, said the team could compare Martian and Scottish soils as both were measured with similar devices.

“By comparing each of the Martian soils with all 1,500 Scottish soils in our dataset, we consistently find a group of Scottish soil samples that are strikingly similar to those on Mars,” he said.

“There are two sites in Scotland that have particularly similar soil minerals to those found of Mars, located on the basaltic soils of Skye and Mull.

“This makes sense because Mars is understood to be rich in basaltic rocks, but when we examine the mineralogy in more detail, we’re quite confident that we have found a good analogue.”

Dr Butler said the discovery meant scientists could now study the soil sites on Skye and Mull in greater detail in an attempt to better understand the conditions on Mars in the past.

Mineral similarities may have provided Scotland with its first tangible connection to Mars, but Nasa has already ensured that the nation is well represented on the Red Planet.

Many Martian geological areas and features have been named by the space agency after places on Earth, with Scottish points of interest including Muck, Wick, Sandwick and Holyrood.

Five years ago a celebration was held when Curiosity reached an area called Glenelg, while in January it began exploring a region named Torridon.

Another location on the Red Planet is named Siccar Point, a place of interesting geology in Berwickshire that inspired the work of scientist James Hutton, after whom the Institute is named.