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The Bruce Murray Space Image Library

Anatomy of a white smoker

Anatomy of a white smoker

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Loren A. Roberts for The Planetary Society

Anatomy of a white smoker
Beneath the ocean floor, iron-rich crustal materials like olivine and pyroxene react with water in a process called serpentinization. The reaction produces a green mineral called serpentine along with hydrogen gas and methane and also releases heat. Alkaline groundwater circulating through the fractured rock picks up the heat and gases along with metal ions; under pressure, it flows toward the surface. Where it spews out of the ocean floor, the contrasts in chemistry and temperature cause minerals to precipitate into smoky plumes and mineralized chimneys.

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