Anomalous Features on Anomalous Rocks — Deciphering the Physical Weathering History of Iron Meteorites found on Mars using Terrestrial Analogues

Wednesday, 16 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
James Ashley, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, United States
Non-indigenous rocks (meteorites) found on Mars by rover science teams offer insights into probable recent (mid- to late-Amazonian) weathering processes within 15° of the martian equator. While source materials are often in question for indigenous martian alteration scenarios, the starting materials for most meteorites are known as unweathered, curated falls in Earth-based collections. Both chemical and mechanical weathering processes have modified at least 21 confirmed and candidate exogenic rocks found at three rover landing sites. Such processes have been shown to include acidic corrosion, oxide production, and aeolian scouring. The unknown martian surface exposure duration of the meteorites makes separating physical from chemical weathering effects challenging: Saltating sand grains may accomplish alone what oxidation and rust removal by aeolian scouring may accomplish in a shorter time interval, for example. However, aeolian abrasion appears to dominate for at least some of the surface features in martian irons. Iron meteorites are resistant to wind-blown sand relative to silicate rocks, but are malleable and able to preserve aeolian abrasion effects. These include 1) regmaglypts enlarged into hollows with overhanging cornices; 2) surfaces scalloped or deeply fluted by straight-line groves, and/or 3) deep ‘boreholes’ present across many surfaces.

The flutings, boreholes, and scallops have oriented symmetry and are therefore potentially useful as paleo-wind direction indicators. Boreholes tend to be clean-edged, elliptical to round, of varying diameter, and often occur independently of local topography. Ventifacted igneous rocks found at Garnet Hill, San Gorgonio Pass, California, present features that resemble many aspects of those found in the metal masses on Mars. Though of different petrologies and mineralogies, both rock types are massive, homogeneous and unfractured, which may conceivably account for some apparent similarities in mechanical weathering behavior. For example, flutings appear to be coalesced boreholes in cross section, which can be truncated locally, producing sharp-edged margins in both martian and terrestrial examples. Topographic visualization from meteorite stereo imagery are expected to enable quantitative comparison with analog morphologies.