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The sluggish (or not) lives of sulfate minerals on Mars: What might Mars Science Laboratory find?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Vaniman (LANL)

Mars holds evidence of a longstanding sulfate cycle that influences much of the mineralogy in aqueous sedimentary, eolian, and regolith systems. Many of these sulfate phases have multiple hydration states with transient and often metastable occurrences. The many phases possible provide an opportunity for using these minerals to extract information on Mars’ hydrogeologic and weathering history yet the complex transformations possible can make interpretation difficult. Dehydration rates are variable but can be quite rapid; rehydration is generally – but not always - sluggish. Experiments with pure phases provide some constraints on what to expect but silicate-brine reactions, mixed mineral assemblages, fabric, and texture can greatly affect mineralogy. The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), due to land in midsummer of 2012, carries an integrated instrument suite that promises to return a wealth of information on all minerals present, including sulfate phases. The primary instrument for mineralogical analysis on MSL is the X-ray diffraction and fluorescence analyzer CheMin. In this presentation I will provide a brief summary of the possible MSL landing sides and the influences of sedimentary setting, season, latitude, and past obliquity on sulfate phases likely to be encountered. Consideration will be given to how the full bank of MSL instrumentation might be brought to bear on determining sulfate mineralogy.

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