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Here Is Martian Chloride, And It Sounds Like Some Kind of Poison. But It’s Not

There are a lot of things people here on Earth are confused about, and two of them are chloride and chlorine. Although spelled almost the same, they couldn’t be more different.
Traces of chloride on Mars' East Thaumasia Planum 6 photos
Mars East Thaumasia PlanumMars East Thaumasia PlanumMars East Thaumasia PlanumMars East Thaumasia PlanumMars East Thaumasia Planum
Chlorine is the fancy term for a substance we use, for instance, in bleach. We also make pesticides and solvents with it, nasty stuff that is not all that friendly to the human body if improperly handled or, worse, ingested.

Chloride, on the other hand, forms here on Earth through aqueous processes. It’s a substance found in seawater, minerals, and, believe it or not, all body fluids. In fact, chloride is an important electrolyte, helping with stuff like cell homeostasis and the functioning of neurons.

So, to put it simply, chlorine is bad for life, whereas chloride is pretty much essential to it. This is why finding the stuff over on Mars is yet another sign of the planet potentially having been home to life at one point in the past.

One of the places we believe the substance might be lurking is the East Thaumasia Planum in the western hemisphere of the planet. You can see a portion of the place in the main photo of this piece and in the gallery, snapped by the HiRISE orbital camera in November last year from an altitude of 255 km (158 km), and recently published by the University of Arizona.

We’re told by the scientists there the “chloride detected here occurs within a trough that intersects a wrinkle ridge and crater within the target area, which should be helpful for understanding stratigraphy of the terrain.”

The finding is even more important given how chloride salt deposits here, because they usually dissolve very readily, might have recorded the last stage of liquid water in the region.

Whatever it may come from the study of this photo, we’ll move one step closer to understanding the past of a planet we might very well call home sometime in the future.

Editor's note: Gallery shows Thaumasia Planum region of Mars.


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