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Published By

M.Sc. Armand van Wijck

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Extraterrestrial Sciences, Planetary Sciences, Mars

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Category: COSIS.net


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Silica deposits on Mars may preserve one of the planet's most recent habitable microenvironments

01.11.2010, Age: 2846 days

New article in Nature Geoscience: Silica deposits in the Nili Patera caldera on the Syrtis Major volcanic complex on Mars

Abstract

The martian surface features abundant volcanoes and evidence for past liquid water. Extant or relict martian volcanic hydrothermal systems have therefore been sought in the pursuit of evidence for habitable environments. The Mars Exploration Rover, Spirit, detected deposits highly enriched in silica with accessory minerals, suggesting formation by hydrothermal leaching of basaltic rocks by low-pH solutions. However, extensive erosion has obscured the context of the formation environment of these deposits. Silica deposits have also been identified remotely, but also with limited contextual clues to their formation; aqueous alteration products of basalt and volcanic ash are the most likely sources. Here we report the detection from orbit of hydrated silica deposits on the flanks of a volcanic cone in the martian Syrtis Major caldera complex. Near-infrared observations show dozens of localized hydrated silica deposits. As a result of the morphology of these deposits and their location in and around the cone summit, we suggest that the deposits were produced by a volcanically driven hydrothermal system. The cone and associated lava flows post-date Early Hesperian volcano formation. We conclude that, if a relict hydrothermal system was associated with the silica deposits, it may preserve one of the most recent habitable microenvironments on Mars.

Skok, J.R., J. F. Mustard, B. L. Ehlmann, R. E. Milliken, and S. L. Murchie (2010), Silica deposits in the Nili Patera caldera on the Syrtis Major volcanic complex on Mars , Nature Geosc. Lett., vol. 3, no. 11, doi:10.1038/ngeo990.


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