A new method for detecting water on Mars has been developed by an undergraduate from Washington State University.
The 21-year-old Kellie Wall looked for evidence that water influenced crystal formation in basalt, the dark volcanic rock that covers most of eastern Washington and Oregon and then compared this with volcanic rock observations made by the rover Curiosity on Mars' Gale Crater.
Wall said that this is really cool because it could potentially be useful for not only the study of rocks on Earth but on Mars and other planets.
The researchers established a method to quantify the texture of volcanic rock using an index called "groundmass crystallinity."
The rocks that erupted and interacted with water, called phreatomagmatic, all had a groundmass crystallinity as low as 8 percent and ranging up to about 35 percent, and the rocks that erupted without interaction with water had groundmass crystallinities from about 45 percent upwards to almost totally crystalline.
She continued that this quantification of volcanic textures is a new facet of the water story that hasn't yet been explored and most of the studies searching for water have focused on either looking for sedimentary structures, large- and small-scale, for evidence of water, or looking for rocks like limestones that actually would have formed in a water-rich environment.
The study is published in Nature.