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I was puzzled by a very interesting question. Can we heat up Martian soil and produce glass just the way we do here on Earth? (the basic way)


For info, Martian sand consists of the following -

  • $\ce{Na2O}$ — $4~\%$

  • $\ce{MgO}$ — $14~\%$

  • $\ce{Al2O3}$ — $18~\%$

  • $\ce{SiO2}$ — $8~\%$

  • $\ce{P2O5}$ — $2~\%$
  • $\ce{SO3}$ — $10~\%$
  • $\ce{Cl}$ — $2~\%$
  • $\ce{K2O}$ — $2~\%$
  • $\ce{CaO}$ — $14~\%$
  • $\ce{TiO2}$ — $2~\%$
  • $\ce{Cr2O3}$ — $2~\%$
  • $\ce{MnO}$ — $2~\%$
  • $\ce{FeO}$ — $4~\%$
  • $\ce{Ni}$ — $8~\%$
  • $\ce{Zn}$ — $6~\%$
  • $\ce{Br}$ — $2~\%$

I can't see anything out of place here, if we heat it up, the silica should do it at around $1700~\mathrm{^\circ C}$.

If we can figure out ways to make glass up there then it would be easy for Martian colonization if that is ever going to happen.

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    $\begingroup$ I think this would be closer to a brick than a glass block. $\endgroup$
    – MaxW
    Apr 12, 2016 at 19:02
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    $\begingroup$ Note that the sand does not actually contain chemical compounds like $\ce{Na2O}$, $\ce{P2O5}$, $\ce{SO3}$, $\ce{K2O}$ etc. These are just the reference compounds for the elemental analysis. $\endgroup$
    – user7951
    Apr 12, 2016 at 19:23
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    $\begingroup$ Mars was found to have quite large reserves of sulfur, which can be used as a hot binder (at lowly ~200°C) for sand to make a kind of cement. arxiv.org/abs/1512.05461 $\endgroup$
    – Karl
    Apr 12, 2016 at 21:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Loong - The OP called it "Martian sand" but I think "Martian soil" would probably be more accurate. We now know that Mars did have water, but I'd wonder about Mars having any ancient sandy beaches. My point about a brick is that you'd use less heat to sinter the soil to a brick than you would if you really melted the whole block to form a glass (assuming the composition is amenable which i doubt). $\endgroup$
    – MaxW
    Apr 13, 2016 at 3:12
  • $\begingroup$ The silica content is too low to make glass per se; possibly a ceramic. Curious- to what purpose? $\endgroup$
    – jimchmst
    Apr 29 at 23:49

2 Answers 2

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The problem is sorting. Ergo, unless you bring your separator with you, the best areas for finding naturally sorted materials are in outflows such as found in Candor Chasma. Semi-translucent larger grains of quartz-rich phenocrysts might be found in useful quantities. Fusing these with a solar kiln would produce a brick of about 0.125 meters thick that would both shield from the rain of radiation and pass some of the weak Martian sunlight, easing the circadian rhythm of colonists. Time to temperature (1700 degrees C) still makes production slow. And the loaders and other equipment need to be transported and successfully landed.

See A Fused Regolith Structure Ethan W. Cliffton Proceedings of Space 90 Engineering, Construction, and Operations in Space ASCE 1990 Albuquerque and Candor Chasma Camp Ethan W. Cliffton Proceedings of Space 88 Engineering, Construction, and Operations in Space ASCE 1988 Albuquerque

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It might be possible to make glass from Martian regolith, without any additives, with sufficient heat.

At the high temperatures required, volatile halide salts in the regolith would likely be lost, as might sulfates and phosphates.

The substance formed, then, would be transition metal-rich aluminosilicate glass or ceramic. It might resemble chemically the Martian meteorites that have reached Earth, but without their crystalline structure due to slower cooling of the meteorites.

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