Chlorine and Sulfur Volatiles from in Situ Measurements of Martian Surface Materials

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 2:40 PM
Benton C Clark, Space Science Institute Boulder, Boulder, CO, United States
A sentinel discovery by the first in situ measurements on Mars was the high sulfur and chlorine content of global-wide soils. A variety of circumstantial evidence led to the conclusion that soil S is in the form of sulfate, and the Cl is probably chloride. An early hypothesis states that these volatiles are emitted as gases from magmas, and quickly react with dust, soil, and exposed rocks. Subsequent determination that SNC meteorites are also samples of the martian crust revealed a significantly higher S content, as sulfide, than terrestrial igneous rocks but substantially less than in soils. The ensuing wet chemical analyses by the high-latitude Phoenix mission discovered not only chloride but also perchlorate and possibly chlorate. MSL data now also implicate perchlorate at low latitudes. Gaseous interactions may have produced amorphous material on grain surfaces without forming stoichiometric salts. Yet, when exposed to liquid water, Phoenix samples released electrolytes, indicating that the soils have not been leached by rain or fresh groundwater. Sulfate occurrences at many locations on Mars, as well as some chloride enrichments, have now been discovered by remote sensing, Landed missions have discovered Cl-enrichments and ferric, Mg, Ca and more complex sulfates as duricrust, subsurface soil horizons, sandstone evaporites, and rock coatings – most of which cannot be detected from orbit. Salt-forming volatiles affect habitability wherever they are in physical contact: physicochemical parameters (ionic strength, freezing point, water activity); S is an essential element for terrestrial organisms; perchlorate is an oxidant which can degrade some organics but also can be utilized as an energy source; the entire valence range of S-compounds has been exploited by diverse microbiota on Earth. Whether such salt-induced conditions are “extremes” of habitability depends on the relative abundance of liquid H2O.