Water alteration of rocks and soils on Mars at the Spirit rover site in Gusev crater

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Gusev crater was selected as the landing site for the Spirit rover because of the possibility that it once held a lake. Thus one of the rover's tasks was to search for evidence of lake sediments1. However, the plains at the landing site were found to be covered by a regolith composed of olivine-rich basaltic rock and windblown ‘global’ dust2. The analyses of three rock interiors exposed by the rock abrasion tool showed that they are similar to one another, consistent with having originated from a common lava flow3,4,5,6,7,8. Here we report the investigation of soils, rock coatings and rock interiors by the Spirit rover from sol (martian day) 1 to sol 156, from its landing site to the base of the Columbia hills. The physical and chemical characteristics of the materials analysed provide evidence for limited but unequivocal interaction between water and the volcanic rocks of the Gusev plains. This evidence includes the softness of rock interiors that contain anomalously high concentrations of sulphur, chlorine and bromine relative to terrestrial basalts and martian meteorites9; sulphur, chlorine and ferric iron enrichments in multilayer coatings on the light-toned rock Mazatzal; high bromine concentration in filled vugs and veins within the plains basalts; positive correlations between magnesium, sulphur and other salt components in trench soils; and decoupling of sulphur, chlorine and bromine concentrations in trench soils compared to Gusev surface soils, indicating chemical mobility and separation.

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Figure 1: Rock Mazatzal and its coatings.
Figure 2: Chemistry and mineralogy of Mazatzal and coatings.
Figure 3: Concentrations of Mg, Al, Cl and Br versus S in rocks and soils.


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Larry A. Haskin, the lead author of this manuscript, died on 24 March 2005. Larry will be remembered by the Athena Science Team for his dedication since the start of the Athena Science Instrument Payload, for his leadership in developing the Mars Microbeam Raman Spectrometer, and for his contributions during the Mars Exploration Rover mission. We thank the NASA Mars programme for support of our participations in the Mars Exploration Rover mission. We thank the Jet Propulsion Laboratory management and the engineering teams for their handling of the rover, sometimes under trying circumstances. We thank K. Kuebler, L. Keszthelyi, M. Blinder and V. Thomas-Holmes for special assistance.

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Correspondence to Alian Wang.

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Haskin, L., Wang, A., Jolliff, B. et al. Water alteration of rocks and soils on Mars at the Spirit rover site in Gusev crater. Nature 436, 66–69 (2005) doi:10.1038/nature03640

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