Habitability of hydrothermal systems at Jezero and Gusev Craters as constrained by hydrothermal alteration of a terrestrial mafic dike

Costello, Lacey J.; Filiberto, Justin; Crandall, Jake R.; Potter-McIntyre, Sally L.; Schwenzer, Susanne P.; Miller, Michael A.; Hummer, Daniel R.; Olsson-Francis, Karen and Perl, Scott (2020). Habitability of hydrothermal systems at Jezero and Gusev Craters as constrained by hydrothermal alteration of a terrestrial mafic dike. Geochemistry (Early access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemer.2020.125613

Abstract

NASA’s search for habitable environments has focused on alteration mineralogy of the Martian crust and the formation of hydrous minerals, because they reveal information about the fluid and environmental conditions from which they precipitated. Extensive work has focused on the formation of alteration minerals at low temperatures, with limited work investigating metamorphic or high-temperature alteration. We have investigated such a site as an analog for Mars: a mafic dike on the Colorado Plateau that was hydrothermally altered from contact with groundwater as it was emplaced in the porous and permeable Jurassic Entrada sandstone. Our results show evidence for fluid mobility removing Si and K but adding S, Fe, Ca, and possibly Mg to the system as alteration progresses. Mineralogically, all samples contain calcite, hematite, and kaolinite; with most samples containing minor anatase, barite, halite, and dolomite. The number of alteration minerals increase with alteration. The hydrothermal system that formed during interaction of the magma (heat source) and groundwater would have been a habitable environment once the system cooled below ∼120 °C. The mineral assemblage is similar to alteration minerals seen within the Martian crust from orbit, including those at Gusev and Jezero Craters. Therefore, based on our findings, and extrapolating them to the Martian crust, these sites may represent habitable environments which would call for further exploration and sample return of such hydrothermally altered igneous materials.

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