A possible terrestrial analogue for haematite concretions on Mars

Abstract

Recent exploration has revealed extensive geological evidence for a water-rich past in the shallow subsurface of Mars. Images of in situ and loose accumulations of abundant, haematite-rich spherical balls from the Mars Exploration Rover ‘Opportunity’ landing site at Meridiani Planum1,2,3 bear a striking resemblance to diagenetic (post-depositional), haematite-cemented concretions found in the Jurassic Navajo Sandstone of southern Utah4,5. Here we compare the spherical concretions imaged on Mars to these terrestrial concretions, and investigate the implications for analogous groundwater-related formation mechanisms. The morphology, character and distribution of Navajo haematite concretions allow us to infer host-rock properties and fluid processes necessary for similar features to develop on Mars. We conclude that the formation of such spherical haematite concretions requires the presence of a permeable host rock, groundwater flow and a chemical reaction front.

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Figure 1: Utah haematite concretion examples (ad) compared with Mars example (e).
Figure 2: Model for Utah haematite concretion formation.
Figure 3: Navajo Sandstone statistics for haematite concretion size and spacing for select, small samples.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the donors of the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund, and the Bureau of Land Management-Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument for partial support of this research (to M.A.C. and W.T.P.). The work by J.O. was supported by the Spanish Ministry for Science and Technology and the Ramon y Cajal Program. The work by G.K. was supported by funding from the Italian Space Agency.

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Correspondence to Marjorie A. Chan.

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Chan, M., Beitler, B., Parry, W. et al. A possible terrestrial analogue for haematite concretions on Mars. Nature 429, 731–734 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02600

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