Multiple stages of aqueous alteration along fractures in mudstone and sandstone strata in Gale Crater, Mars
The Mars rover Curiosity in Gale crater conducted the first-ever direct chemical and mineralogical comparisons of samples that have clear parent (unaltered) and daughter (altered) relationships. The mineralogy and chemistry of samples within and adjacent to alteration halos in a sandstone formation were established by the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) X-ray diffraction (XRD) instrument and the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS), respectively. The Stimson formation sandstones unconformably overlie the Murray mudstone formation and represent the youngest stratigraphic unit explored by Curiosity to date. Aqueous alteration of the parent sandstone resulted in a loss of half of the original crystalline mineral phases and a three-fold increase in X-ray amorphous material. Aqueous fluids extensively leached Mg, Al, Mn, Fe, Ni, Zn and other elements from the parent material, decreased the pyroxene to feldspar ratio by a factor of two, introduced Ca and mixed-cation sulfates, and both passively and actively enriched the silica content. Leaching of Mg, Al, Mn, Fe, Ni and Zn and enrichment of Si and S are also observed in alteration halos in the underlying mudstone. These observations are consistent with infiltration of subsurface fluids, initially acidic and then alkaline, propagating along fractures crosscutting the Stimson sandstone and Murray mudstone. The geochemistry and mineralogy suggest a complicated diagenetic history with multiple stages of aqueous alteration under a variety of environmental conditions (e.g. both low and moderate pH). The formation of these alteration halos post-dates lithification of the sandstones and mudstones and represents one of the youngest hydrogeologic events presently known to have occurred in Gale crater.