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The Mawrth Vallis region of Mars; a potential landing site for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission

Faculty Advisor




clays, planetary science, habitability, infrared spectroscopy, Mars

Abstract (summary)

The primary objective of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, which will launch in 2011, is to characterize the habitability of a site on Mars through detailed analyses of the composition and geological context of surface materials. Within the framework of established mission goals, we have evaluated the value of a possible landing site in the Mawrth Vallis region of Mars that is targeted directly on some of the most geologically and astrobiologically enticing materials in the Solar System. The area around Mawrth Vallis contains a vast (>1 × 106 km2) deposit of phyllosilicate-rich, ancient, layered rocks. A thick (>150 m) stratigraphic section that exhibits spectral evidence for nontronite, montmorillonite, amorphous silica, kaolinite, saponite, other smectite clay minerals, ferrous mica, and sulfate minerals indicates a rich geological history that may have included multiple aqueous environments. Because phyllosilicates are strong indicators of ancient aqueous activity, and the preservation potential of biosignatures within sedimentary clay deposits is high, martian phyllosilicate deposits are desirable astrobiological targets. The proposed MSL landing site at Mawrth Vallis is located directly on the largest and most phyllosilicate-rich deposit on Mars and is therefore an excellent place to explore for evidence of life or habitability.

Publication Information

Michalski, J. R., Bibring, J.-P., Poulet, F., Mangold, N., Loizeau, D., Noe Dobrea, E. Z., Bishop, J. L., Wray, J. J., McKeown, N. K., Parente, M., Hauber, E., Alteri, F., Carrozza, G., & Niles, P. B. (2010). The Mawrth Vallis region of Mars: a potential landing site for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission. Astrobiology, 10(7), 687-703.


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