Stable Isotope Systematics of Martian Perchlorate
Abstract:Chlorine isotopic compositions in HCl released during evolved gas analysis (EGA) runs have been detected by the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument on the Curiosity rover ranging from approximately -9‰ to -50‰ δ37Cl, with two spatially and isotopically separated groups of samples averaging -15‰ and -45‰. These extremely low values are the first such detection of any known natural material; common terrestrial values very rarely exceed ±5‰, and the most extreme isotopic signature yet detected elsewhere in the solar system are values of around +24‰ on the Moon. The only other known location in the solar system with large negative chlorine isotopes is the Atacama Desert, where perchlorate with -14‰ δ37Cl has been detected. The Atacama perchlorate has unusual Δ17O signatures associated with it, indicating a formation mechanism involving O3, which suggests an atmospheric origin of the perchlorate and associated large isotopic anomalies. Identification of non-zero positive Δ17O signatures in the O2 released during EGA runs would allow definitive evidence for a similar process having occurred on Mars.
Perchlorate is thought to be the most likely source of HCl in EGA runs due to the simultaneous onset of O2 release. If perchlorate is indeed the HCl source, atmospheric chemistry could be responsible for the observed isotopic anomalies, with variable extents of perchlorate production producing the isotopic variability. However, chloride salts have also been observed to release HCl upon heating; if the timing of O2 release is merely coincidental, observed HCl could be coming from chlorides. At thermodynamic equilibrium, the fractionation factor of perchlorate reduction is 0.93, meaning that differing amounts of post-deposition reduction of isotopically normal perchlorate to chloride could account for the highly variable Cl isotopes. Additionally, post-deposition reduction could account for the difference between the two Cl isotopic groups if perchlorate is the HCl source, as the residual perchlorate after reduction will be isotopically heavy. Therefore, conclusive determination of the origin of HCl released during EGA is vital to understanding the origin of this large δ37Cl anomaly.