On hematite as a target for dating aqueous conditions on Mars

Joseph Kula, Suzanne L Baldwin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Scopus citations

Abstract

Hematite spherules, identified by the Opportunity Mars Exploration Rover (MER), have been interpreted as in situ evidence for past aqueous conditions on the Martian surface. Hematite has also been demonstrated as a reliable (U-Th)/He chronometer, although it is not widely used. In the absence of post-formational diffusive He loss, (U-Th)/He ages measured from Martian hematite spherules should yield the time since water was present on Mars. Using published morphologic constraints and He diffusion kinetics for hematite we model He diffusive loss to assess whether Martian hematite spherules will retain original (U-Th)/He ages during long residence times (4.0 Ga) at surface conditions (22°C). Fractional loss calculations predict <2% diffusive loss at 22°C over 4.0 Ga, indicating Martian hematite will preserve ages within analytical precision of the (U-Th)/He technique. If present Mars conditions persisted since the Noachian (e.g. 4.0 Ga), hematite spherules likely record ages reflecting the timing of aqueous mineralization. For the 'wetting-upwards' Burn Formation at Meridiani Planum, hematite from the lower eolian dune subunit would be postdepositional providing a minimum age on deposition, while hematite from the upper interdune/playa unit may be syndepositional thus yielding the age of the deposit. Therefore (U-Th)/He hematite ages obtained from samples collected along a vertical profile could potentially constrain the timing and rates of water saturation of the rock column, and the timing of the transition from wet to dry conditions at Meridiani Planum. Determining an absolute paleohydrologic timescale on Mars may reveal if water was available for sufficient durations required for the development of life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-108
Number of pages8
JournalPlanetary and Space Science
Volume67
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2012

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Keywords

  • (U-Th)/He
  • Helium
  • Hematite
  • Mars

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics

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