Constraints on the origin and evolution of the layered mound in Gale Crater, Mars using Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter data
Gale Crater contains a 5.2 km-high central mound of layered material that is largely sedimentary in origin and has been considered as a potential landing site for both the MER (Mars Exploration Rover) and MSL (Mars Science Laboratory) missions. We have analyzed recent data from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to help unravel the complex geologic history evidenced by these layered deposits and other landforms in the crater. Results from imaging data from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) and Context Camera (CTX) confirm geomorphic evidence for fluvial activity and may indicate an early lacustrine phase. Analysis of spectral data from the CRISM (Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars) instrument shows clay-bearing units interstratified with sulfate-bearing strata in the lower member of the layered mound, again indicative of aqueous activity. The formation age of the layered mound, derived from crater counts and superposition relationships, is ̃3.6-3.8 Ga and straddles the Noachian-Hesperian time-stratigraphic boundary. Thus Gale provides a unique opportunity to investigate global environmental change on Mars during a period of transition from an environment that favored phyllosilicate deposition to a later one that was dominated by sulfate formation.