Young K-Ar gae of jarosite in the Mojave sample at Gale Crater, Mars.

Martin, P. E.; Farley, K. A.; Cohen, B. A.; Mahaffy, P. R.; Malespin, C. A.; Schwenzer, S. P.; Vasconcelos, P. M.; Ming, D. W.; McAdam, A. C. and Navarro-Gonzales, R. (2017). Young K-Ar gae of jarosite in the Mojave sample at Gale Crater, Mars. In: 48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, 20-24 Mar 2017, Houston.



By combining the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument’s capabilities with those of the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer (APXS) on the Curiosity rover, radiometric K-Ar ages and 3He, 21Ne, and 36Ar exposure ages have been measured on two samples as of sol 1430. The Cumberland mudstone was found to have a K-Ar age of 4.21 ± 0.35 Ga (all uncertainties here are reported in 1σ), consistent with crater-counting estimates of the surrounding terrains. A second geochronology experiment was undertaken on the potassium-rich Windjana sandstone, which resulted in the unreasonably young and unrepeatable ages of 627 ± 50 Ma and 1710 ± 110 Ma on two different aliquots. These results were attributed to incomplete Ar extraction arising from the coarse grainsize and Ar-retentive characteristics of sanidine, the major K-bearing mineral in the sample.

Recently, a drilled bedrock sample from the Murray mudstone formation (termed Mojave 2) was found by the CheMin instrument to contain approximately 3.1 wt% jarosite. Jarosite is precipitated from acidic, sulfate-rich waters and is a suitable mineral for KAr dating. On a large scale, jarosite has been thought to signal the aridification of Mars and a shift towards a cold, dry environment. The small amount of jarosite in this sample prohibits generalization to a larger Martian context. However, since jarosite forms strictly through interaction with water, the K-Ar age of the jarosite in Mojave 2 puts a maximum age constraint on the last time liquid water was present at the sample site. By extension, it could also indicate the time of the very final stages of evaporation from the lake in Gale Crater.

A two-step heating experiment was designed to obtain the K-Ar age of the jarosite, which accounts for about 20% of the K2O in the sample. The remainder of the K2O exists in plagioclase, an amorphous component, and possibly a small amount in K-bearing phyllosilicates.

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