The Canyons of Mars, from Silicone Dust Rivers?
I suggest that the canyons of Mars were carved by rivers of silicone dust created from silica and methane millions of years ago, the creation energized by ultraviolet and\or ions from the sun.
Mars is a very arid planet. It has been dry for an extremely long time [Kerr 2003]. [Bibring]. I can almost conceive of an ocean of hydrogen evaporating into space leaving very little behind. However, I have great difficulty accepting the concept of an ocean of oxygen evaporating completely or driven off as ions [Lundin] [Barabash], or what would probably be more necessary, water. Of course fairly large amount of water probably exists under the polar caps [Praut], not enough for an ocean, but probably enough for significant erosion in very early times if it could have remained unfrozen. Also, where are the ancient series of parallel beaches left behind as the ocean evaporates, the deltas [Milton1, p1932], the river meanders, or the barrier islands? (also see this site) Where are the carbonate deposits [Bandfield] laid down in this ancient ocean or other ocean deposits [Malin, 2001 p1935]. It has been suggested that an ancient ocean was acidified with sulfurous acid and thus no possibility of carbonate formation[Halevy]. This is plausible if there had been an ocean. But that would not account for recent erosion. There are scattered deposits of a white material on Mars, which is thought to be chlorides deposited in its earliest history [Osterloo] and the nature of minerals deposited on Mars such as magnesium and calcium chlorides and magnesium sulfate indicate very concentrated solutions for a long time, perhaps 3.5 billion years [Tosca]. If it is chloride, there is little chance of rain on Mars for a long time. Mars is a very cold planet; where are the extensive glacial moraines, the U-shaped valleys, the horns, or the boulders carried out to sea? There are deposits suspected of being glacial flows, but they are recent and local off the north west slopes of a few volcanoes [Forget]. Evidence from Martian meteorites suggest that Mars has been below freezing for 4 billion years [Shuster]. Some have suggested a large volume of water or water/carbon dioxide hydrate [Milton] withdrawn from this ocean by storage underground. In this crazy universe, I suppose anything is possible, but somehow that much ash and volcanic rubble seems unlikely to me. Also, why wasn't water stored there back then? As for water suddenly being released from such an underground storage again and again, that is impossible. The widespread presence of jarosite on Mars, which jarosite is crystals of ferric sulfate, indicates very dry conditions after its formation. Jarosite degrades under moist conditions, and is only found on Earth in extremely dry deserts [Madden]. Jarosite is formed on Earth by sulfuric acid generated by emissions from a volcano in Hawaii [Schiffman]. Olivine and pyroxene are widespread on Mars. Since these minerals can not remain intact in the presence of water [Christiansen, p 35] Mars must have been dry for a long time. The only water discovered so far are tiny isolated pockets near the north pole such as this one. There is evidence of clay minerals (phylosilicates) that require water to form in ancient deposits. However kaolinite clay, which would be expected in an area of active hydrological flushing, has been identified in only a few locations less than 200 meters across [Mustard]. So far none of the major and minor outflow channels or valley networks show evidence of hydrated minerals, but rather they are on the surrounding plateau and its eroded flanks [Biring].
I suspect that what actually happened was that these canyons were carved out by silicone rivers. Mars has much volcanic lava on the surface, and because of much less water erosion than earth or more likely, none, slow cooling batholiths, if any, should be unexposed. Therefore, fast cooling of surface lava from which surface dust is derived must have created extremely small silica particles. I suspect that when Mars first formed the surface layers were even higher in silica than present day lavas, similar to earth’s continental rocks. Many may have consisted of only a few hundred or even dozen atoms when the surrounding metallic silicate rock disintegrated. Ultraviolet light gets to the surface easily now and could have then. I suspect it provides plenty of energy to form bonds between the methane which almost certainly existed at that time [Yung] and the silica surfaces. Silicon is fairly high in Martian soils [Baird] and it is possible that some of it is silica [McLennan]. Indeed, some soils are almost 100% minute silica particles smaller than a few hundred micrometers as determined by absorption spectra, as well as rocks [Squyres 2008]. Also, it is conceivable that water solutions could have degraded any metallic silicates to eventually end up as silica early on. There was certainly an enormous amount of time to form the bonds and plenty of surface area for the ultraviolet light to act upon when dust was wafted aloft. There is also the possibility that ions from the sun could have been involved for dust aloft. These silicones are very stable and can reasonably be expected to last a long time because of being little affected by any plausible chemical reactions. Any small silane molecules which might have formed would probably not remain as an uncondensable gas because when these molecules are bombarded with ions (as from the sun), they condense to form longer chains with a release of hydrogen [Jolly]. Both silanes and silicones also have very low Van der Waals forces so that the “dust” particles would behave like a liquid. Their liquid status should be much enhanced if they were separated by molecules of methane gas which must have been much denser billions of years ago. Even extremely fine silica particles not coated by silicone will not support a weight placed on them if they have been surrounded by air [Lohse], so the viscosity may have approached zero. When Martian methane winds wafted them aloft, they should also have some of the attributes of a gas, and a rather dense gas at that. Any "condensed" out upslope would flow down hill. Such a dense material would be able to flow down a very low gradient and thus account for the extremely long canyons observed. The "condensation" and “evaporation” could take place at low temperatures because silicones do not stick to each other even at low temperatures.
Because of their small Van der Waals forces, these particles would not affect the rocks while flowing and slide over them in sheets. For that matter distilled water would have little affect either. However, there is no reason why they could not carry along molecules of water, ammonium carbonate, carbonic acid, or more likely, sulfurous [Halevy] or sulfuric acid [Bullock] [McCollam] [Squyras 2006], which could disintegrate rock and thus create the gullies. If you are willing to grant other theorists an ocean, surely you would be willing to grant me a few molecules of water and sulfurous or sulfuric acid. Also, minute particles of silicon carbide, corundum, silicon nitride and diamonds from meteorites [Dai] and other hard particles such as aluminum oxide from the eroded rocks carried along could have an abrasive effect continued for billions of years. Besides, much of the terrain these rivers flowed over were probably wind borne deposits later [Malin, 2001 p1933] and therefore probably poorly consolidated. Indeed, most of the silicones probably formed long before the large canyons. Finely divided, dry particles are capable of flowing here on earth even when they contain hundreds of thousands of atoms and even when made of a fairly sticky material like aluminum dust. There is no reason to suspect that it could not have happened on Mars with smaller and less sticky molecules.
If the gullies and canyons were carved into “sedimentary rock”, creating them would be even easier. Recent detailed photos suggest that the surface within 30 degrees of the equator is composed of layers of particles cemented together several thousand meters thick. Even craters 100 kilometers across or more are filled with these “sediments” [Malin 2001]. This means that these layers must have been laid down from a previous atmospheric transport billions of years ago. If so, that makes carving of the subsequent canyons by a silicone dust river even more plausible.
An ocean of silicone is not necessary. Indeed, the reason many Martian gullies seem to often suddenly disappear may be because the topography at that time was such that they entered a local depression to form a silicone lake. They would not leave a delta because the fine particles abraded off the rocks by the diamond particles, etc., would not suddenly precipitate out like earth generated clays suddenly entering salt water. Indeed, most of the particles were probably lighter than the “fluid”. Similarly, at their source, the suddenness with which some commence may be because they originated in the overflow of a graben [Carr]. Smaller sudden origins may be because the surface rock is harder than the underlying material. Such a phenomenon may be visible in this photograph.
Treiman is of the opinion that the gullies were carved by dust. He says that gullies were carved all over, in all ages, and on al terrains, and that there are no rocks in the gullies and that they are most numerous on the leeward slopes in the mid latitudes [Treiman]. This silicone fluid probably does not exist in anything like the volume today that it did then and may be nonexistent on the surface because of the current oxidizing atmosphere.
The recent discovery of small gullies which are recent by virtue of no impact craters implies that something like this may continue at present though. They seem to have shapes that resemble snow avalanches somewhat here on earth [Malin 2006 p1575] and resemble loose debris [Kerr 2007]. They are almost all located on the cold pole ward facing slopes within 30 and 70 degrees latitude and commence part way down the slope. Perhaps in the equatorial regions and on equator facing slopes tiny amounts of water and acid were able to seep into the ground in the past and cement the particles together somewhat. You may see pictures of recent gullies here.
Hoffman has suggested that dust flows fluidized by carbon dioxide may have caused the ancient canyons. For my hypothesis to be valid, it surely must be necessary for some of this former silicone fluid to have been trapped in some of the "sediments" which settled out downstream. Also there is a good chance that some of the sediments have some silicone groups on their surface. This could be the reason for massive debris flows into some of the craters next to a hill [Head]. Kraal thinks they are deltas from a huge release of water [Kraal, with a good picture], but mass wasting slides or avalanches are much more likely. The shock of an impact could make some Martian soils thixotropic, those with just the correct composition of silicone. Layers of some kind of material are widespread on Mars, as many as a hundred ten meter thick layers having been discovered where canyons slice through [Treiman p46,52]. If these silicone particles exist there, they would surely tend to elevate this hypothesis to the status of a theory. Thus, we would have a reasonable alternative to the hopeless water hypothesis. A good place to start the search would be those rocks which have been found to be unusually high in silica [McSween] or the meteorites hitting earth which are suspected of originating from a Martian impact. Also, neutron bombardment of the top one meter of Martian soil has recently disclosed hydrogen (see this site for a hydrogen map). This is consistent with the presence of silicones. Also methane has been detected in the atmosphere of Mars [Formisano] [Atreya]. This implies a current source, which could be degradation of silicones, because the atmosphere of Mars is oxidizing and would continuously remove methane from the atmosphere. That dust could have existed then is quite plausible because there are violent dust storms miles high with tornado force winds even on today’s Mars. There are also dust spout miniature tornadoes. For a picture of a modern dust storm see here.
For a hypothesis that attempts to explain the huge Valles Marineris canyon from a moonlet impact, see this site.
For some dramatic views of a travel to Mars and then to outer space, a trip which would take thousands of years even inside our own galaxy, but compressed into 12 minutes, see this site.
For the site of a large planetary society see here.
For the site of the Mars Society. For a theory which attempts to explain the mid ocean ridges here on earth see http://members.tripod.com/~charles_W/ridge.html
For a theory which attempts to explain quasars as an optical illusion created by gravitational lensing of the light from the opposite jet of an enormous mass WITHIN the quasar see http://www.geocities.com/isoptera.geo/index.html
FOR SOME HEALTH LINKS GO TO THE END.
References may be seen j http://charles_w.tripod.com/mars.html