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Conference Papers Year : 2017

Five Years of Analyses of Volatiles, Isotopes and Organics in Gale Crater Materials

Paul R. Mahaffy
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Caroline Freissinet
Brad Sutter
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Cyril Szopa


Over the last five years, the Curiosity rover has explored a variety of fluvial, lacustrine and aeolian sedimentary rocks, and soils. The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument has analysed 3 soil and 12 rock samples, which exhibit significant chemical and mineralogical diversity in over 200 meters of vertical section. Here we will highlight several key insights enabled by recent measurements of the chemical and isotopic composition of inorganic volatiles and organic compounds detected in Gale Crater materials. Until recently samples have evolved O2 during SAM evolved gas analyses (EGA), attributed to the thermal decomposition of oxychlorine phases. A lack of O2 evolution from recent mudstone samples may indicate a difference in the composition of depositional or diagenetic fluids, and can also have implications for the detection of organic compounds since O2 can combust organics to CO2 in the SAM ovens. Recent mudstone samples have also shown little or no evolution of NO attributable to nitrate salts, possibly also as a result of changes in the chemical composition of fluids [1]. Measurements of the isotopic composition of sulfur, hydrogen, nitrogen, chlorine, and carbon in methane evolved during SAM pyrolysis are providing constraints on the conditions of possible paleoenvironments [e.g., 2, 3]. There is evidence of organic C from both EGA and GCMS measurements of Gale samples [e.g., 4, 5]. Organic sulfur volatiles have been detected in several samples, and the first opportunistic derivatization experiment produced a rich dataset indicating the presence of several organic compounds [6, 7]. A K-Ar age has been obtained from the Mojave mudstone, and the age of secondary materials formed by aqueous alteration is likely <3 Ga [8]. This relatively young formation age suggests fluid interactions after the end of most fluvial activity on the surface of Mars. As these highlights show, SAM measurements of solid samples have made diverse and important contributions to the exploration of Gale’s rock records of martian environmental history and habitability.
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insu-01687592 , version 1 (18-01-2018)


  • HAL Id : insu-01687592 , version 1


Amy Mcadam, Paul R. Mahaffy, Slavka C. Andrejkovicova, Paul D. Archer, Sushil K. Atreya, et al.. Five Years of Analyses of Volatiles, Isotopes and Organics in Gale Crater Materials. AGU 2017 Fall Meeting, Dec 2017, New Orleans, United States. ⟨insu-01687592⟩
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