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Hydrated silicate minerals on Mars observed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter CRISM instrument


Phyllosilicates, a class of hydrous mineral first definitively identified on Mars by the OMEGA (Observatoire pour la Mineralogie, L’Eau, les Glaces et l’Activitié) instrument1,2, preserve a record of the interaction of water with rocks on Mars. Global mapping showed that phyllosilicates are widespread but are apparently restricted to ancient terrains and a relatively narrow range of mineralogy (Fe/Mg and Al smectite clays). This was interpreted to indicate that phyllosilicate formation occurred during the Noachian (the earliest geological era of Mars), and that the conditions necessary for phyllosilicate formation (moderate to high pH and high water activity3) were specific to surface environments during the earliest era of Mars’s history4. Here we report results from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM)4 of phyllosilicate-rich regions. We expand the diversity of phyllosilicate mineralogy with the identification of kaolinite, chlorite and illite or muscovite, and a new class of hydrated silicate (hydrated silica). We observe diverse Fe/Mg-OH phyllosilicates and find that smectites such as nontronite and saponite are the most common, but chlorites are also present in some locations. Stratigraphic relationships in the Nili Fossae region show olivine-rich materials overlying phyllosilicate-bearing units, indicating the cessation of aqueous alteration before emplacement of the olivine-bearing unit. Hundreds of detections of Fe/Mg phyllosilicate in rims, ejecta and central peaks of craters in the southern highland Noachian cratered terrain indicate excavation of altered crust from depth. We also find phyllosilicate in sedimentary deposits clearly laid by water. These results point to a rich diversity of Noachian environments conducive to habitability.

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Figure 1: CRISM and laboratory reflectance spectra showing hydrated silicate mineral diversity.
Figure 2: Mineral diversity and stratigraphy of Mawrth Vallis.
Figure 3: Stratigraphy of phyllosilicate-bearing strata in the Nili Fossae region.
Figure 4: Phyllosilicate occurrences in the Noachian-aged southern highlands.

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We thank the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter team for building and operating the spacecraft and the numerous people who have contributed to the CRISM investigation. Support from NASA to the CRISM science team is gratefully acknowledged.

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Correspondence to John F. Mustard.

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Mustard, J., Murchie, S., Pelkey, S. et al. Hydrated silicate minerals on Mars observed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter CRISM instrument. Nature 454, 305–309 (2008).

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