Investigation of mineral assemblages in a newly identified endorheic playa near Huygens basin on Mars and their astrobiological implications

1Deepali Singh,1Priyadarshini Singh,1Nidhi Roy,1Saumitra Mukherjee
Icarus (in Press) Link to Article [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.icarus.2021.114757]
1School of Environmental Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi 110067, India
Copyright Elsevier

The present study investigated an inter-crater depression, which is hypothesized to have been hydrologically active in the past. Mineralogical analysis of the putative lake was carried out to examine the presence of secondary minerals and decipher its aqueous alteration history. The basin was observed to be predominant in mono- and polyhydrated sulfates and hydrated silica with intermittent exposures of Al phyllosilicates such as montmorillonite and beidellite. Later, mineral profiling of the surrounding terrain was also carried out to infer the origin of these minerals. We recorded signatures of Mg-rich smectite (saponite) and Fe/Ca‑carbonate in crater rims and ejecta here, in addition to the minerals previously identified within the basin. Spectro-morphological examination of the entire region helped in understanding the emplacement of the minerals and construction of the life cycle of the lake. The contrasting environmental conditions required for the formation of these minerals suggest that the basin witnessed multiple hydrological cycles and that it was active for a long period of time. We propose the basin to be an endorheic playa with geologically complex terrain which may hold good biosignature preservation potential for future exploration missions. Finally, our preliminary exploration of the area highlights the importance of inter-crater depressions on Mars and their significance in water budgeting, even if a small percentage of them were hydrologically active.

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