A mineral made in a Kamchatka volcano may hold the answer to cheaper batteries, find scientists.
- Russian scientists discover a new mineral in the volcanic area of Kamchatka in the country's far east.
- The mineral dubbed "petrovite" can be utilized to power sodium-ion batteries.
- Batteries based on salt would be cheaper to produce than lithium-ion batteries.
Excited Russian scientists at the edge of the volcanic area in Kamchatka where the mineral was found.
Credit: St. Petersburg University / Filatov
Crystal structure displaying sodium migration pathways.
Credit: Filatov et al., Mineralogical Magazine, 2020
Zircons in a Martian meteorite widens the possible timeframe for life on Mars.
- A meteorite from Mars unexpectedly contains zircons that reveal the planets history.
- The rock likely comes from one of the solar system's tallest volcanoes.
- Analyzing the zirconium required smashing some very expensive rock.
Zirconian time capsules<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5NDYyNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NDU1NzI1OH0.URoz_gzrLswB109_j2MJha-A5a_S0wx2n75HlYZ2esk/img.jpg?width=980" id="61509" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c04d2caf50da8a0efdf061be4ca49bf6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Earth zircon in gem form atop calcite
Credit: Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com/Wikimedia<p>"We were quite surprised and excited when we found so many zircons in this Martian meteorite," says Bizzarro. "Zircon are incredible durable crystals that can be dated and preserve information that tell us about their origins." Zircons are a rarity on Mars' surface — which resembles the crust beneath Earth's ocean floors — and so scientists have not been expecting to find much of the mineral.</p><p>What makes this so intriguing, Bizzarro explains to the <a href="https://dg.dk/en/mars-meteorite-black-beauty-expands-time-frame-for-potential-life-on-the-red-planet/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><u>Danish National Research Foundation</u></a>, is that zircon "functions as a small time capsule because it obtains and saves information about the environment as well as when it was created. In this case a time capsule with hafnium, which comes from Mars' early crust, which existed around 100 million years before the oldest zircon in Black Beauty was created. Thus, Mars got an early start in comparison with Earth, whose solid crust was created much later."</p>
Breaking Black Beauty<p>Big Think readers may recall that the meteorite — known as "Black Beauty," though its official name is "Northwest Africa 7533" — cost the university $500,000 dollars for 50 grams of its 319.8-gram volume. As such, deciding to perform any sort of analysis that requires damaging the precious rock is not a decision taken lightly, as when, say, zircons are found in the stone.</p><p>"One of the big challenges," <a href="https://snm.ku.dk/english/news/all_news/2018/2018.6/the-meteorite-black-beauty-expands-the-window-for-when-life-might-have-existed-on-mars/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><u>says</u></a> Bizzarro, "has been that the zircons in Black Beauty are extremely small. This called for a courageous strategy: We crushed our precious meteorite. Or to be precise: We crushed 5 grams."</p><p>The decision paid off, says Bizzarro: "Today, I'm glad we chose that strategy. It released seven zircons, one of which is the oldest known zircon from Mars. And from the zircons and their content of hafnium, we can now conclude that the crystallization of the surface of Mars went extremely fast: already 20 million years after the formation of the solar system, Mars had a solid crust that could potentially could house oceans and perhaps also life."</p><p>Eventually, the team would crush 15 grams of Black Beauty, extracting 60 zircons.</p>
Old and young zircons<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5NDYzNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjI5MDg3OX0.AJwFBV9m2ygMbq-78hXqwUy359wi_V-VJzV6iHXZ9mk/img.jpg?width=980" id="2feeb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cdb506ceff0db1132127e2c5aac1ff6a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The oldest Martian zircon found so far
Credit: Martin Bizzarro/University of Copenhagen<p>"Zircon is a very solid mineral that is ideal for making such an absolute dating of time. In this regard, zircon can be used as a portal to pinpoint a time frame for the history of crust formation on Mars." Dating of Black Beauty's zircons shed new light on the planet's history. Most of the minerals were dated back to roughly 4.5 billion years ago, the earliest days of the planet.</p><p>Unexpectedly, though, some of the zircons were more recently formed, a period from about 1,500 million years ago to 300 million years. "These young ages were a great surprise," recalls Bizzarro.</p><p>That finding may have to do with where the rock came from. "The Black Beauty meteorite is believed to come from the southern hemisphere of Mars, which does not have any young volcanic terrains. The only possible source for these young zircons is the Tharsis volcanic province located in the northern hemisphere of the planet, which contains large volcanoes that were recently active," Martin Bizzarro adds.</p><p>That province, known as the Tharsis bulge, is a huge volcanic area that's got the largest volcanoes, up to 21 kilometers (13 miles) high, yet seen anywhere in the solar system. It's believed that since Mars lacks plate tectonics, volcanoes gather in a single area, beneath which a massive reservoir of magma is likely located.</p><p>First author of the study is Mafalda Costa , who says, "Having samples of the deep interior of Mars is key. This means that we can now use these zircons to probe the origin of the volatile elements on Mars, including its water, and see how it compares with Earth and other planets in the Solar System."</p><p>The most important element the zircons contain for the purpose of looking into Mars history is hafnium. Bizzarro explains that hafnium "retains a memory of where the zircon formed. We found that the hafnium isotope composition of the young zircons is unlike any of the known Martian meteorites, which indicates that the young zircons come from a primitive reservoir that we did not know existed in the interior of Mars."</p>
Interactive globe shows where your hometown was at various stages of Earth's deep geological past.
- If you love travelling, a pandemic like this is not the greatest of times.
- But here's a way to go somewhere else without even leaving the house.
- This interactive tool lets you travel up to 750 million years back in time.
Travels in the fourth dimension<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDUyNTI1Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjM5NjY5OX0.l5xmIbvn6QtGwzC6zg2GJWWfjc-N4pAHGhaF7JGOWxE/img.jpg?width=980" id="10f9f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="eb5f583d74333bece3f7e1f95dff6145" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="" />
Image: Ancient Earth Globe, reproduced with kind permission.<p><em>Berlin in deep time. Left to right: in the Neocene Period (20 million years ago), Berlin is on a vast plain that includes what would become the Baltic Sea; in the Devonian (400 million years ago), it's on the southern edge of a turtle-shaped continent; and in the Ordovician (470 million years ago), Berlin is on an island south of what was to become, many millions of years later, the Black Sea.</em></p><p>No matter where in the world you are, the virus continues to be out there somewhere, as keen as ever on making your acquaintance. The best policy remains: avoid contact with others, avoid unnecessary travel. In short: we're all stuck at home a whole lot more than we'd like to. </p><p><span></span>After the better part of a year spent under various forms of lockdowns and other restrictions, many are suffering from an increasingly itchy version of <em>wanderlust</em> – the urge to travel – and it's becoming harder and harder not to scratch. </p><p>Here's an interesting alternative: instead of traveling through space, why not stay put in the first three dimensions and travel through the fourth one instead? It's a trick performed to great acclaim by H.G. Wells in "<a href="http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/35" target="_blank">The Time Machine</a>." <br></p><p>The protagonist in Wells' 1895 novella travels to the terrifying future populated by Eloi and Morlocks and even further forward to the final days of Earth, without having to leave the laboratory attached to his house.</p>
750 million years into the past<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDUyNTI2OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNDI3ODIxOX0.uFiLQ1OVzfnxyYXG2HBVQM69-9vr5JHpGZkU8frgQ2A/img.jpg?width=980" id="39f51" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8e079cb759c93a8f114d37670e2ca922" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image: Ancient Earth Globe, reproduced with kind permission.<p><em>New York City through the ages. Left to right: Early Triassic (240 million years ago), in the middle of a megacontinent opposite future Morocco; Carboniferous (340 million years ago), still coastal, but mirrored – the ocean to the west, the land to the east; Late Ordovician (450 million years ago), near the tip of a very Long Island indeed.</em></p><p>And thanks to the <a href="https://dinosaurpictures.org/ancient-earth" target="_blank">Ancient Earth Globe</a>, you can now travel 750 million years in the other direction, also without leaving your house. You don't even need a lab; just go to the interactive map built by paleontologist Ian Webster. Here's how it works.<br></p><ul><li>Type in the name of your hometown.</li><li>Its coordinates are 'geolocked' onto the globe.</li><li>As you scroll through the past ages of the Earth, the continents shift shape and change place.</li><li>Watch the surroundings of your location modify accordingly. Now you're high up in the mountains. And now you're getting your feet wet in the middle of a nameless ocean. </li></ul>There are several ways to navigate the deep past presented by the Ancient Earth Globe.<ul><li>From the drop-down menu on top, you can pick one of 25 specific times, from zero to 750 million years ago.</li><li>Or pull one of 19 significant events from the menu on the right-hand side: the time of the first dinosaurs or the first flowers, the time of the supercontinents of Pangaea or Pannotia, the Jurassic or Cretaceous era.</li><li>Or you can time-travel casual style, by using the left and right arrows on your keyboard to flip through prehistory. </li></ul>
The map of the world isn't 'fixed'<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDUyNTI3OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2OTA3ODQzM30.ANPjkSMiQWfrVNsoAE5DeO6nAWrzVrBgaPRR7FyAQ8E/img.jpg?width=980" id="f17d9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="17df49844a4d2fb9481c6d147946e084" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image: Ancient Earth Globe, reproduced with kind permission.<p><em>Time travel in Buenos Aires. Left to right: Late Jurassic (150 million years ago), glued to Southern Africa; Carboniferous (340 million years ago), in the middle of a giant bay; Silurian (430 million years ago), on the north shore of a large continent, facing a Hawaiian-like chain of islands.</em></p><p>The purpose of the Ancient Earth Globe is to provide its users with an appreciation of the dynamic nature of our planet's appearance. The map of the world that we experience as 'fixed' is anything but. The tectonic forces that shift, split and collide entire continents are constantly at work. Except that our lives are too short to really experience the changes they bring about.</p><p>But go back far enough into the past, and what's familiar becomes strange. Dry land transforms into ocean floor. Seaside towns move to the middle of strange continents. Cold climes turn tropical, and vice versa. Imagining such exotic pasts may not be the same as actually going there. But it sure beats watching the news in this Groundhog Day of a year. </p><p><em><br></em></p><p><span></span><em>Images from the Ancient Earth Globe reproduced with kind permission by Ian Webster</em></p><p><em></em><strong>Strange Maps #1052</strong></p><p><strong></strong><em>Got a strange map? Let me know at </em><a href="mailto:email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a><em>.</em></p>
The microbes that eventually produced the planet's oxygen had to breathe something, after all.
- We owe the Earth's oxygen to ancient microbes that photosynthesized and released it into the world's oceans.
- A long-standing question has been: Before oxygen, what did they breathe?
- The discovery of microbes living in a hostile early-Earth-like environment may provide the answer.
Unassuming but remarkable microbial mats<p> Photosynthesis chiefly requires sunlight, water, and CO<sup>2</sup>. The CO<sup>2</sup> gets broken down into carbon and oxygen — the plant uses some of this oxygen and releases the rest. Without oxygen molecules, though, how did this work? </p><p> There are known microbial mats today that live in oxygen-free environments, but they're not thought to be sufficiently like their ancestors to explain ancient photosynthesis in an oxygen-free environment. </p><p> There have been a few oxygen stand-ins proposed. Photosynthesis can work with iron molecules, but fossil-record evidence doesn't support that idea. Hydrogen and sulphur have also been proposed, though evidence for them is also lacking. </p><p> The spotlight began to shift to arsenic in the first decade of the millennium when arsenic-breathing microbial mats were discovered in two hypersaline California lakes, <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/308/5726/1305.abstract" target="_blank">Searles Lake</a> and <a href="https://www.discovermagazine.com/planet-earth/mono-lake-bacteria-build-their-dna-using-arsenic-and-no-this-isnt-about-aliens" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mono Lake</a>. In 2014, Visscher and colleagues <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/ngeo2276" target="_blank">unearthed indications</a> of arsenic-based photosynthesis, or "arsenotrophic," microbial mats deep in the fossil record of the Tumbiana Formation of Western Australia. </p><p> Still, given the ever-shifting geology of the planets, the fractured ancient fossil record makes definitive study of ancient arsenotrophic photosynthesis difficult. The fossil record can't identify the role of the arsenic it reveals: was it involved in photosynthesis or just a toxic chemical that happened to be there? </p><p>Then, last year, arsenic-breathing microorganisms <a href="https://www.washington.edu/news/2019/05/01/arsenic-breathing-life-discovered-in-the-tropical-pacific-ocean/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">were discovered</a> in the Pacific Ocean. A sulphur bacterium, <em>Ectothiorhodospira sp.</em> was also recently found to be metabolizing arsenic into <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arsenite" target="_blank">arsenite</a> in <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5064118/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Big Soda Lake</a> in Nevada. </p>
An ancient Earth environment, today<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ0NzIxMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1OTQwOTYyN30.v96ZRXpIAf4yzDwcvXzVV3Fa4qULtUMxanXguPHD2wI/img.jpg?width=980" id="9eec4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a23585c057ee50ed500b96125e4a6b05" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
a Map of Northern Chile; b Detail of frame showing Laguna La Brava in the southern Atacama; c The channel showing the mats in purple; d Hand sample, cross-section; e Microscopic image of bacteria.
Credit: Visscher, et al./Communications Earth & Environment<p>The study reports on Visscher's discovery of a living microbial mat thriving in an arsenic environment in Laguna La Brava in the Atacama Desert in Chile. "We started working in Chile," Visscher tells <a href="https://today.uconn.edu/2020/09/without-oxygen-earths-early-microbes-relied-arsenic-sustain-life/" target="_blank"><em>UConn Today</em></a>, "where I found a blood-red river. The red sediments are made up by <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anoxygenic_photosynthesis" target="_blank">anoxogenic</a> photosynthetic bacteria. The water is very high in arsenic as well. The water that flows over the mats contains hydrogen sulfide that is volcanic in origin and it flows very rapidly over these mats. There is absolutely no oxygen."</p><p>The mats had not previously been studied, and the conditions in which they live are tantalizingly similar to those of early Earth. It's a high-altitude, permanently oxygen-free state with extreme temperature swings and lots of UV exposure. </p><p>The mats that somewhat resemble Nevada's purple <em>Ectothiorhodospira sp.</em> are going about their business of making carbonate deposits, forming new stromatolites. Most excitingly, those deposits contain evidence that the mats are metabolizing arsenic. The rushing waters surrounding the mats are also rich in hydrogen sulphide and arsenic.</p><p>Says Visscher, "I have been working with microbial mats for about 35 years or so. This is the only system on Earth where I could find a microbial mat that worked absolutely in the absence of oxygen."</p><p>Not that Earth is the only place where this could happen. Visscher notes that the equipment they used for studying the Laguna La Brava mats is not unlike the system aboard the Mars Perseverance Rover. "In looking for evidence of life on Mars, they will be looking at iron, and probably they should be looking at arsenic also."</p>
Rocks from two hundred million years ago show us how everything died and how nothing is new.
- A new study suggests that the mass extinction that gave dinosaurs the evolutionary upper hand was caused by oceanic oxygen deprivation.
- Using ratios of sulfur isotopes, researchers could estimate changes in ocean oxygen levels in ancient seas.
- The authors suggest a similar mechanism as that which can cause dead zones in oceans today caused a mass extinction.