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Hints of Habitable Environments on Mars Challenge Our Studies of Mars-Analog Sites on EarthLife as we know it requires water with a chemical activity (alpha) >or approx.0.6 and sources of nutrients and useful energy. Some biota can survive even if favorable conditions occur only intermittently, but the minimum required frequency of occurrences is poorly understood. Recent discoveries have vindicated the Mars exploration strategy to follow the water. Mars Global Surveyor s Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES) found coarse-grained hematite at Meridiani Planum. Opportunity rover confirmed this and also found evidence of ancient sulfate-rich playa lakes and near-surface groundwater. Elsewhere, TES found evidence of evaporitic halides in topographic depressions. But alpha might not have approached 0.6 in these evaporitic sulfate- and halide-bearing waters. Mars Express (MEX) and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) found extensive sulfate evaporites in Meridiani and Valles Marineris. MEX found phyllosilicates at several sites, most notably Mawrth Valles and Nili Fossae. MRO's CRISM near-IR mapper extended the known diversity and geographic distribution of phyllosilicates to include numerous Noachian craters. Phyllosilicates typically occur at the base of exposed ancient rock sections or in sediments in early Hesperian craters. It is uncertain whether the phyllosilicates developed in surface or subsurface aqueous environments and how long aqueous conditions persisted. Spirit rover found remarkably pure ferric sulfate, indicating oxidation and transport of Fe and S, perhaps in fumaroles or hot springs. Spirit also found opaline silica, consistent with hydrothermal activity. CRISM mapped extensive silica deposits in the Valles Marineris region, consistent with aqueous weathering and deposition. CRISM also found ultramafic rocks and magnesite at Nili Fossae, consistent with serpentinization, a process that can sustain habitable environments on Earth. The report of atmospheric methane implies subsurface aqueous conditions. A working hypothesis is that aqueous environments persisted in the near-subsurface for hundreds of millions of years and might exist even today. Studies of Mars-analog environments must better understand subsurface nonphotosynthetic ecosystems and their biosignatures in mafic and ultramafic terranes. Studies must determine minimum needs for water activity and energy and also establish survival limits when conditions that support active metabolism and propagation become progressively less frequent over time.
Document ID
20100026828
Document Type
Conference Paper
Authors
desMarais, David J (NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA, United States)
Date Acquired
August 24, 2013
Publication Date
June 21, 2009
Subject Category
Space Sciences (General)
Report/Patent Number
ARC-E-DAA-TN632
Meeting Information
Goldschmidt Conference(Davos)
Funding Number(s)
WBS: WBS 811073.02.12.01.04.02.09
Distribution Limits
Public
Copyright
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.