Highlands & Islands

Martian and Scottish soils 'strikingly similar'

Nasa's Mars rover Curiosity Image copyright AFP
Image caption An Aberdeen-based institute studied data sent back to Earth by Nasa's Mars rover Curiosity

Scientists have discovered soil on Mars to be similar to that found in two locations in Scotland.

The Aberdeen-based James Hutton Institute studied data on Martian minerals beamed back to Earth by Nasa's robot rover, Curiosity.

Researchers compared the information against the institute's Scottish soil dataset.

They found the Martian soil to be "strikingly similar" to basaltic soils of the isles of Skye and Mull.

Dr Benjamin Butler, of the institute's environmental and biochemical sciences group, said Curiosity had successfully sent back digital mineral signatures of about 30 soils on the Red Planet.

He said: "Amazingly this data is open access, despite being probably the most expensive X-ray diffraction data in history.

"This allowed us to compare the Martian data to our own Scottish soil dataset, measured on a similar instrument, and to ask the question whether there are any soils in Scotland with similar mineralogy to those found on Mars.

Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption Information on 30 soils from Mars were compared against a dataset of Scottish soils

"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.

"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."

Dr Butler added: "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."

Image caption Soil in Skye has similar minerals to those found on Mars, say scientists

The institute has another connection to Mars.

A location on the planet is named Siccar Point, a place of interesting geology in Berwickshire that inspired 18th Century scientist James Hutton's work.

Dr Butler said: "Whilst it's fun to establish these connections between Mars and Scotland, this now provides us with the opportunity to use the identified sites on Skye and Mull to better understand the conditions of ancient Mars."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites