Updated Perspectives and Hypotheses on the Mineralogy of Lower Mt. Sharp, Mars, as seen from Orbit

1Rachel Y. Sheppard,1Ralph E. Milliken,2Mario Parente,2Yuki Itoh
Journal of Geophysical Research, Planets (in Press) Link to Article [https://doi.org/10.1029/2020JE006372]
1Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, Brown University
2Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Published by Arrangement with John Wiley & Sons

Previous studies have shown that Mt. Sharp has stratigraphic variation in mineralogy that may record a global transition from a climate more conducive to clay mineral formation to one marked by increased sulfate production. To better understand how small‐scale observations along the traverse path of NASA’s Curiosity rover might be linked to such large‐scale processes, it is necessary to understand the extent to which mineral signatures observed from orbit vary laterally and vertically. This study uses newly processed visible‐shortwave infrared CRISM data and corresponding visible images to re‐examine the mineralogy of lower Mt. Sharp, map mineral distribution, and evaluate stratigraphic relationships. We demonstrate the presence of darker‐toned strata that appears to be throughgoing with spectral signatures of monohydrated sulfate. Strata above and below this zone are lighter‐toned and contain polyhydrated sulfate and variable distribution of Fe/Mg clay minerals. Clay minerals are observed at multiple stratigraphic positions; unlike the kieserite zone these units cannot be traced laterally across Mt. Sharp. The kieserite zone appears to be stratigraphically confined, but in most locations the orbital data do not provide sufficient detail to determine whether mineral signatures conform to or cut across stratigraphic boundaries, leaving open the question as to whether the clay minerals and sulfates occur as detrital, primary chemical precipitates, and/or diagenetic phases. Future observations along Curiosity’s traverse will help distinguish between these possibilities. Rover observations of clay‐bearing strata in northwest Mt. Sharp may be more reflective of local conditions that could be distinct from those associated with other clay‐bearing strata.

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