On an Extensive Late Hydrologic Event in Gale Crater as Indicated by Water-Rich Fracture Halos

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

  • Travis S. J. Gabriel
  • Craig Hardgrove
  • Cherie N. Achilles
  • Elizabeth B. Rampe
  • William N. Rapin
  • Suzanne Nowicki
  • Sean Czarnecki
  • Lucy Thompson
  • Sergei Nikiforov
  • Maxim Litvak
  • Igor Mitrofanov
  • Denis Lisov
  • Frydenvang, Jens
  • Albert Yen
  • Roger C. Wiens
  • Allan Treiman
  • Amy McAdam

We analyze spatially pervasive, light-toned “halos” associated with fractures in a sedimentary unit (Stimson) of Gale crater, Mars, and report a similar network of halos discovered in a separate geologic group (Bradbury). Through a dedicated active neutron measurement campaign, we provide independent confirmation of the water-rich nature of these features. Together with mineralogical and geochemical data, these features are consistent with abundant hydrated amorphous silica (opal-A). We suggest that the mineral and amorphous assemblages are indicative of formation under low-temperature and predominantly low-pH conditions (passive silica enrichment) with minor contribution of silica (active silica enrichment) from adjacent units. We show that there is significant amorphous silica in the array of sedimentary rocks in Gale crater, allowing them to play a role in an active silica enrichment phase of halo formation. We suggest that the involved alteration event was short lived and our finding of vast halo networks in a distant, older unit implies a more vast network of hydrologic subsurface conduits than previously known. This relatively recent subsurface hydrologic system was present long after the transition from a warm and wet to a cold and dry Martian environment, extending the habitability conditions on Mars to an epoch that is generally considered not favorable for life on the surface. Finally, our bulk H quantification of these features, which ranges from ∼3–6 wt% H2O-equivalent-H, suggests that the amorphous material in halos hosts ample supplies of readily released water, making them a considerable resource at the otherwise dry Martian equator.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020JE006600
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number12
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.

    Research areas

  • Mars, neutron, opal, silica, subsurface, water

ID: 332999208