Excuse me, Moon, can I lick you?
It has come to my attention that one of the greatest geological tools available is our tongue.
Yup, you read that right. There are geologists out there in the wild right now. Licking and nibbling on strange rocks. Remember when you ate sand in kindergarten? Well, turns out that you were a misunderstood geologist.
Yet, since it is frowned upon in public, most novice geologists hesitate with employing the use of their tongue in identifying a rock. To the uninitiated, this might sound absurd but I assure you it is a valid scientific test still currently in use.
But why though?
Geology is the study of rocks and is an Earth Science. It is necessary as it reveals the deep history of the Earth, informs the other sciences with its discoveries, and is useful for economic purposes. Need to know where you have to drill for oil? Call a geologist. Think you found a fossil on your trail? Call a geologist. Need inputs on a hydroelectric project’s feasibility? Call a geologist. Will Mount Fuji erupt again? Call a geo…. No, actually you need a volcanologist for that. They study volcanoes and volcanic activity, pretty badass if I may say so. Same discipline though. Anyway, you get the gist.
Additionally, not all rocks are similar. They vary, have a diverse set of origins, compositions, structures and properties. This way we can learn about the energy of the surrounding environment by looking at the rocks present in it. For example, a pebble is smooth due to the flow of water. Desert rock structures look weathered due to wind abrasions, so on and so forth. This gives us a peek into what Earth was like millennia ago.
To figure out what something is, we usually figure out what it isn’t and work from there. The process of elimination.
And when it comes to rocks, everything it is and isn’t relates to its mineral make.
This makes mineralogy a vital component of any geologist’s set of tools for fieldwork and research. Now, there are an array of methods with which you can test different samples to arrive at a positive identification. Streak tests, colour classification, reaction with acidic solutions and hardness to name a few. While all these are reliable field tests in most situations. There is another useful and more interesting method: licking rocks.
It’s quick, efficient, useful and mostly safe (If you know what you’re doing). Because of the often absurd difficulty in rock and mineral identification, geologists will use many diagnostic tools available to them, and the mouth is an excellent one. The tongue especially is a sensitive organ, capable of chemical analysis (that’s what taste is!) and excellent texture detection.
Ultimately Geology is a discipline that utilises all of one’s senses. So apart from looking closely at a rock, it helps with even biting/ nibbling a little piece of it off and chewing it.
Don’t believe me? Listen for yourself on the infinite monkey cage here.
Are you going to eat that?
Now, this doesn’t mean that you can go out there into the world and lick every rock that you see. Pay attention to the environment of the rock before putting it into your mouth. Having said that science does require sacrifice, so lick away younglings.
Let’s explore which mineral tastes you can decipher. There is halite which is salty to taste and is a rock salt. It tastes as common table salt would. Next is sylvite, a mineral related to halite, but with a pungent and sour taste. For some rocks, licking won’t work but grinding them against your teeth will. This is a test for distinguishing between siltstone and shale — siltstone will feel gritty against your teeth, shale won’t.
And for the kicker, if a rock happens to stick to your tongue then it might be a fossil as the texture of bone tends to stick to our tongue. This is why few archaeologists might also elect to include their oral insights into a possible fossil.
Now, are there any rocks or minerals that you should leave to your other four senses? Yes, so don’t go crazy trying to get a taste of everything lithological. Certain minerals contain poisonous elements that are not worth accidentally ingesting. For example, there’s realgar a ruby red ore mineral that contains arsenic; autunite a dangerous radioactive uranium-bearing mineral; the lead ores, such as galena and cerussite and mercury ore minerals like cinnabar ( which sounds just like cinnamon but I assure you isn’t even remotely as safe to eat)
Now, coming to the Moon and other planets.
In the above episode of the infinite monkey cage where the panel brings up the possibility of space rocks and their mineral makeup. With NASA’s perseverance’s landing on Mars. The red planet and its minerals are within our grasp. The mission of perseverance is to drill into the martian bedrock and collect samples that will be retrieved on future missions back to Earth. Engineering marvels aside. This means that we will have an unsoiled sample of another planet’s rock and mineral content available to us on Earth. This news is bound to make the mouths of several Geologists salivate.
Of course, we have meteorites which are cool but aren’t quite the same. Burning upon re-entry into our atmosphere tends to take away most of the taste I suppose. The very idea of tasting a planet!
The doors of industries that this opens up is unfathomable.
Who knows where this concept would take us? Couple it with space mining and we have ourselves an entire interplanetary salt and condiment racket.
NASA in the salt business, who knew?
Fetch your tin foil hats boys and girls. Cousin Arjunan’s going to take you on a wild adventure. It is my vehement belief that all space agencies will become Salt Mafias. Sure they all have noble intentions and beliefs. Space exploration, scientific discovery, the final frontier!!! Curiosity is a naturally abundant human trait but so is greed. Allow me to elaborate.
If organisations and companies can start exporting minerals and salt from other planets. They would sell it as a commodity, which I am all for. Taste Mars salt or the Moon’s? Yes please, but would they tax it? Should they tax it? If yes, how much?
Now in India the last time someone taxed salt it caused quite a bit of stir in our country. Heck, it led to our independence. In fact, salt taxation hasn’t gone well anywhere in the world. The French revolution, the Moscow uprising, India’s salt march and the salt tax revolt in Spain. Taxation on salt does not sit well with earthlings, it’s safe to say. Unless we have private players in space mining various world governments are going to have a monopoly over interplanetary salt. This will only lead to another uprising, revolution, march or riot. ISRO must look into our very own mars landing mission. It is in humanity’s best interest for us to send our rover to the Martian surface so that we may be prepared for the second Salt Satyagraha (salt march) on the red planet. To stand in solidarity with the common people of the world on revoking the taxation of planetary table salt.
Ask yourself: WWGD (What would Gandhi do?)
How then would these space organisations earn from salt mining on other planets you ask? Aside from the mining and mineral export contracts, you mean? Well by selling other salt and mineral-based products of course. Excluding table salt, there can also be an entire section of novelty items from Mars/Moon. Such as scrubbing stones to interplanetary chakra aligning beads as well as entirely new beauty product lines and services. Moon crater face washes, Mars volcanic ash face packs, Mars basalt for construction and cobblestones anyone? Interplanetary marbled flooring perhaps?
Not to mention salt lamps.
Himalayan salt lamp? Pfffft… how’s about a Moon salt lamp or even better a Martian salt lamp? A slice of another planet would soon enough dorm every studio apartment, art café, coffee table and Instagram influencer’s feed.
The possibilities are endless. Once space mining becomes economically feasible we can start asking the real questions.
For example are we the aliens on Mars or is everything on Mars alien to us?
I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective. Most things in life generally are.