Ancient sedimentary rocks in the Mawrth Vallis region, Mars

Post by Joe Michalski, Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona, USA

On Earth, the most ancient sedimentary rock record has been largely obliterated by plate tectonics and erosion. Those that remain are from the early history of the Earth and are severely deformed and mineralogically altered. Evidence for the earliest life on Earth found within these strata is often controversial because the rocks are so severely changed from their original state.

Fig1

Image 1: Rugged, eroded terrain in the northwest portion of the image (north is up), and an eroded butte in the southeast contain rocks layered at the scale of decimeters to meters. Reddish-brown colors correspond to surfaces that are rich in nontronite – an Fe-rich smectite clay mineral. The bluish areas surrounding the butte in the central part of the image correspond to surfaces that are rich in hydrated silica and aluminous clay minerals (such as montmorillonite and kaolinite). In the south-central and eastern parts of the image, relatively flat terrain bears massive fractures at multiple scales. One set of fractures is found at the scale of 100s of meters and one at the scale of several meters. This type of geomorphology if found in association with many layered deposits on Mars, but it is particularly well developed here. Most likely, the fractures form in response to volume decrease associated with dehydration of expandable (smectite) clay minerals. [HiRISE image ESP_011383_2030] http://hirise.lpl.arizona.edu/ESP_011383_2030

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Hematite-rich regions on Mars

Post by Cathy Weitz and Melissa Lane Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona, USA.

Fine-grained red hematite is a common mineral on the surface of Mars and explains much of the reddish color for martian soils and rocks. However, hematite can also be gray in color if it is coarser grained. Gray, crystalline hematite has been identified by the Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES) at several sites on Mars , including: Meridiani Planum, Aram Chaos, Valles Marineris, Aureum Chaos, and Iani Chaos (Image 1) [Christensen et al., 2000; 2001; Glotch and Christensen, 2005; Glotch and Rogers, 2007; Noe Dobrea et al., 2007; Weitz et al., 2007]. At Meridiani, Aram Chaos, Iani Chaos, and Aureum Chaos the hematite units are confined to a specific layer or fairly continuous unit [e.g., Christensen et al., 2001, Glotch and Christensen, 2005]. Whereas,  in Valles Marineris the gray hematite is more patchy in distribution and scattered in separate troughs [Weitz et al., 2007; Le Deit et al., 2008].

August 2010

Image 1: Three locations where TES has detected gray hematite. The colors represent non-absolute estimated abundances, with red indicating highest abundances and blues lower amounts. (a) Central Valles Marineris. (b) Aram Chaos. (c) Meridiani Planum, where the location of the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity landing site is shown by a black cross.

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