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Opal lovers, head to Mars

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First Posted: May 31, 2013 07:47 AM EDT
Maxine O'Brien, secretary/manager of the Lightning Ridge Miners Association, holds up for the media the world's largest Black Nobbie opal.

Maxine O'Brien, secretary/manager of the Lightning Ridge Miners Association, holds up for the media the world's largest Black Nobbie opal. Credit:Reuters

Researchers from the University of Sydney has carried out a study to find out the reason behind such an abundance of opal present in Australia's lands, making it the world's largest supplier of opal.

What amazed them was the fact that there could be a possibility of Mars having lots of these gemstones too.

"Australia produces over 90 percent of the world's supply of opal. Before this we did not know its origin, why it forms at such shallow depths or why it can be found in central Australia and almost nowhere else on Earth," Patrice Rey, professor at the University of Sydney, explained.

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Careful investigation revealed that the dramatic and extraordinary geographical conditions that took place in Australia during the drying out of its central landscape may be responsible for opaline silica, clay minerals and iron oxides to deposit on its surface. And it's not just that; Mars too experienced a similar kind of geographical condition, suggesting that these depositions would be present there too.

"Many Australians familiar with the unmistakable features of Australia's Red Centre may not realize, despite their similarly striking red appearance, that it shares many of its remarkable characteristics with Mars, which also appears to be why opaline silica forms there," Rey further explained.

This environmental similarity that Australia shares with Mars could prove to be a breakthrough discovery. While the United States and the European community are shelling out millions of dollars to send rovers to Mars to better understand Mars, a convenience to study the environment on Mars on our very own planet, could be a piece of cake.

Central Australia could prove to be a natural laboratory where the geo-biological processes of potential Martians could be studied too.

These findings, published in the Australian Journal of Earth Sciences also adds that the presence of the acid neutralizing rock is what allowed the formation of the precious opal in Australia's lands, whereas Mars was lumped with opaline silica as a product of acid weathering.

The opal we so enthusiastically covet today was actually the result of a lucky switch to alkaline conditions before the silica gel could get trapped within the fractures and crevices of the rocks.

So if you're a die-hard fan of opal, Mars is the place to shop.

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