New Constraints on the Deposition and Alteration History of Mt. Sharp in Gale Crater, Mars
Abstract:The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover is currently investigating the lower stratigraphy of northwestern Mt. Sharp, the 5 km thick stack of layered rock that makes up the central mound of Gale Crater. Previous near-infrared spectral investigations from orbit using CRISM have shown that this portion of the mound exhibits a diverse mineralogy that may indicate changing aqueous environments on early Mars. The relationship of these mineralogic units to stratigraphic units across the full extent of Mt. Sharp is not well understood, although such relationships are key to interpreting the depositional and digenetic history. Here we present new mineral maps derived from CRISM data, as well as detailed stratigraphic columns from around the mound, and we use these new results to constrain hypotheses for the modes of aqueous alteration.
Our new CRISM mineral maps are projected and co-registered to HiRISE imagery and DEMs, and include Fe/Mg-smectites, poly- and mono-hydrated sulfates, iron oxides, high-Ca pyroxene, and a ferrous phase with a strong red spectral slope between 1.1-1.8 μm, which is consistent with ferrous alteration phases like ferrous clays. This latter unit consistently overlies Fe/Mg-smectites in NW and SW Mt. Sharp, and is located in topographic benches that are either immediately stratigaphically above hematite-bearing ridges. The presence of ferrous alteration phases supports previous interpretations that hematite formed when an Fe2+-bearing fluid encountered an oxidizing environment. In this scenario, the reducing fluids were created by long-term oxygen limited alteration of Fe-bearing minerals in the near-surface. Downward movement of these fluids may have been limited by the underlying clay layer, forcing lateral flow. On emergence at the surface, the iron was oxidized by photochemical or other redox reactions. On Earth, similar pedogenic processes form hematite ironpans on slopes surrounding poorly-drained hilltops, as well as ancient banded iron formations in shallow coastal waters. The reducing environment inferred from the ferrous phases could be a site of high organic preservation potential, and the redox gradient inferred from the ferric/ferrous mineral relationship could have served as an energy source for chemolithotrophic microbes.