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Mars’ clay minerals might have been formed by volcanic processes, not standing liquid water as generally believed.

The uncertainty of science: Mars’ clay minerals might have been formed by volcanic processes, not standing liquid water as generally believed, according to a new study.

Data collected by orbiting spacecraft show Mars’ clay minerals may instead trace their origin to water-rich volcanic magma, similar to how clays formed on the Mururoa atoll in French Polynesia and in the Parana basin in Brazil. That process doesn’t need standing bodies of liquid water. “The infrared spectra we got in the lab (on Mururoa clays) using a reflected beam are astonishingly similar to that obtained on Mars by the orbiters,” lead researcher Alain Meunier, with the University of Poitiers in France, wrote in an email to Discovery News. The team also points out that some of the Mars meteorites recovered on Earth do not have a chemistry history that supports standing liquid water.

If correct, this alternative explanation would mean that Mars was not that wet in the past, and would have been far less likely of ever having sustained life.