October 14, 2014

Mineralogy of Terra Meridiani and western Arabia Terra from OMEGA/MEx and implications for their formation

Poulet F., Arvidson R.E., Gomez C., Morris R.V., Bibring J.-P., Langevin Y., Gondet B., Griffes J.

Summary: Analyses of Mars Express OMEGA hyperspectral data (0.4-2.7 µm) for Terra Meridiani and western Arabia Terra show that the northern mantled cratered terrains are covered by dust that is spectrally dominated by nanophase ferric oxides. Dark aeolian dunes inside craters and dark streaks extending from the dunes into the intercrater areas in mantled cratered terrains in western Arabia Terra have similar pyroxene-rich signatures demonstrating that the dunes supply dark basaltic material to create dark streaks. The dissected cratered terrains to the south of the mantled terrains are dominated spectrally by both low-calcium and high-calcium pyroxenes with abundances of 20-30% each retrieved from nonlinear radiative transfer modeling. Spectra over the hematite-bearing plains in Meridiani Planum are characterized by very weak but unique spectral features attributed to a mixture of a dark and featureless component (possibly gray hematite) and minor olivine in some locations. Hydrated minerals (likely hydrous ferric sulfates and/or hydrous hydroxides) associated with poorly ferric crystalline phases are found in the etched terrains to the north and east of the hematite-bearing plains where erosion has exposed ~ 1 km of section of layered outcrops with high thermal inertias. These materials are also found in numerous craters in the northern Terra Meridiani and may represent outliers of the etched terrain materials. A few localized spots within the etched terrain also exhibit the spectral signature of Fe-rich phyllosilicates. The ensemble of observations show that the evidence for aqueous processes detected by the Opportunity Rover in Meridiani Planum is widespread and confirms the extended presence of surface or near-surface water over this large region of Mars. The scenarios of formation of Terra Meridiani ("dirty" acidic evaporite, impact surge or weathering of volcanic ash) cannot satisfactorily explain the mineralogy derived from the OMEGA observations. The formation of the etched terrains is consistent with leaching of iron sulfides and formation of sulfates and hydrated iron oxides, either in-place or via transport and evaporation of aqueous fluids and under aqueous conditions less acidic than inferred from rocks examined by Opportunity. © 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.