Sandstone Diagenesis at Gale Crater, Mars, As Observed By Curiosity
Thursday, 18 December 2014: 11:50 AM
The Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, has encountered a significant number of poorly-sorted and very well-lithified sandstones along its traverse on the floor of Gale Crater. We use images from the hand-lens imager (MAHLI) and elemental chemistry from the ChemCam laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy instrument (LIBS) and the alpha-particle x-ray spectrometer (APXS) to begin to constrain the diagenetic history of these sandstones, including lithification and possible later dissolution. Investigation of MAHLI images reveals that the sediments are poorly-sorted and show very low apparent porosity, generally less than ~5%. However, in some cases, such as the Gillespie Lake sandstone identified in Yellowknife Bay, this apparent porosity includes a significant fraction of void spaces larger than typical sediment grain sizes (~30% by number or 75% of void spaces by area). One possible explanation of these larger pits is that they represent recent removal of soft intraclasts by eolian abrasion. Another possibility is that later diagenetic fluids caused dissolution of more soluble grains, and production of secondary porosity. Investigation into the elemental chemistry of the sandstones has shown that they have a relatively unaltered basaltic bulk composition in spite of possessing a variety of secondary minerals and amorphous material, indicating isochemical diagenetic processes. The chemistry and mineralogy of the cement is not immediately evident based on the initial analyses; there is not a high percentage of salts or evaporative minerals that may easily cement near-surface sandstones. Furthermore, these sandstones lack textures and compositions consistent with pedogenic processes, such as calcrete, silcrete, or ferricrete. Instead, they may record burial and cementation at depth. Cement composition may be constrained through comparison to terrestrial basaltic sandstones, and studying chemical variations along ChemCam and APXS transects of the rocks.