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2010 Annual Science Report

Arizona State University Reporting  |  SEP 2009 – AUG 2010

Habitability of Water-Rich Environments, Task 4: Evaluate the Habitability of Ancient Aqueous Solutions on Mars

Project Summary

On Earth, hydrothermal systems teem with life and such systems could have been widespread in the solar system. The Mars habitability task has been focusing on understanding how to identify the fingerprints of hydrothermal processes in the ancient rock record, while assessing the potential of hydrothermal deposits to preserve signatures of life. The recent discovery of silica-rich hydrothermal deposits by the Mars Exploration Rover, Spirit, has provided renewed interest in hydrothermal deposits as targets for future in situ robotic missions and sample returns for Astrobiology.

4 Institutions
3 Teams
7 Publications
2 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

During the funding period, we collected additional samples and continued lab analyses of siliceous hot spring sinters from Yellowstone National Park and the Taupo Volcanic Zone, New Zealand, in order to document relationships between microtexture, silica phase mineralogy, accessory mineralogy and diagenesis, over a broad range of pH and temperature. With Graduate Sudent, Vicki Mills, we completed high-resolution X-ray Diffraction and petrographic studies of siliceous sinters. With Everett Shock we began a microtexture-based sampling of sinters for minor and trace element abundances. With collaborators Steve Ruff (ASU; a member of collaborator Phil Christensen’s research group) and Ralph Milliken (Notre Dame), we used a portable XRD (Terra), with portable near- and thermal IR instruments in the field, at Yellowstone, to document the mineralogy and spectral properties of siliceous sinters under natural conditions, and over a broad range of pH and temperature conditions. These data are now being compared with suspected siliceous sinter deposits at Home Plate, Columbia Hills, Mars which were previously acquired by the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) missions. With NAI collaborators Linda Jahnke and post-doc Niki Parenteau (NASA Ames Team), we completed additional field sampling and lab analyses of siliceous sinters to understand lipid biomarker preservation over a broad pH and temperature range. With Glenn Sellar and Graduate Student Jorge Nunez, we continued to develop and test a Multispectral Microscopic Imager (MMI), with Mars Multi-beam Raman spectrometer (MMRS) for future flight proposal opportunities.