Laboratory Simulations and Spectral Analyses of Recurring Slope Streaks on Mars

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Benjamin Wing, Organization Not Listed, Washington, DC, United States, Brandon Irvin, Applied Physics Laboratory Johns Hopkins, Laurel, MD, United States, Charles Hibbitts, JHU-APL, Laurel, MD, United States and Amit Mushkin, University of Washington Seattle Campus, Seattle, WA, United States
Low albedo streaks on Martian slopes have been cited as possible evidence for present-day intermittent and repeated surface flow of water, or brine (Mushkin et al., 2010). Also termed as Recurring Slope Lineae (1), such streaks can grow, fade, and recur repeatedly on the same slopes. Although distinguishable by being darker than surrounding terrain slope streaks have no diagnostic spectral absorption features (2). A leading hypothesis is formation by multiple wetting and drying events. Laboratory investigations have previously explored this possibility (e.g 3). When wetted with brines, soils darken, but as the sample dries, it brightens again. Wetting also results in absorption bands near 1.5 and 2 microns, which are not detected in spectra of slope streaks. Additionally, dried brines of most salts such as MgSO4, or other sulfates and many chlorides are brighter than Martian soils. However, iron chlorides are a salt that have lower albedo than most other salts and may present a mechanism for darkening slope streaks without inducing a spectral absorption feature. To explore this hypothesis, we have begun to conduct experiments investigating the spectra of iron chloride chloride solutions wetting palagonite and subsequently drying under Martian atmospheric conditions. Preliminary experiments demonstrate that FeIII chloride dried onto palagonite has no absorption features in the NIR and SWIR and remains dark and red. However, these chlorides will oxidize under terrestrial conditions forming Fe2O3 as they dry. We have constructed an environmental chamber that mimics Martian oxygen fugacity though a combination of vacuum and N2 purging, allowing for sample wetting and drying while concurrently taking spectra from 0.4 to 2.4 microns. Results from this experimental setup under Martian atmospheric conditions will be presented.

References: (1) McEwen et al., (2011) Science, 333, 740-743, (2) Mushkin et al., (2010) Geophys. Res. Lett., 37, L22201, doi: 10.1029/2010GL044535, (3) Masse et al., (2012), 43rd LPSC, #1856.