Meridiani Planum hematite deposit and the search for evidence of life on Mars - Iron mineralization of microorganisms in rock varnish

Carlton C. Allen, Luke W. Probst, Beverly E. Flood, Teresa G. Longazo, Rachel T. Schelble, Frances Westall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

23 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The extensive hematite deposit in Meridiani Planum was selected as the landing site for the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity because the site may have been favorable to the preservation of evidence of possible prebiotic or biotic processes. One of the proposed mechanisms for formation of this deposit involves surface weathering and coatings, exemplified on Earth by rock varnish. Microbial life, including microcolonial fungi and bacteria, is documented in rock varnish matrices from the southwestern United States and Australia. Limited evidence of this life is preserved as cells and cell molds mineralized by iron oxides and hydroxides, as well as by manganese oxides. Such mineralization of microbial cells has previously been demonstrated experimentally and documented in banded iron formations, hot spring deposits, and ferricrete soils. These types of deposits are examples of the four "water-rock interaction" scenarios proposed for formation of the hematite deposit on Mars. The instrument suite on Opportunity has the capability to distinguish among these proposed formation scenarios and, possibly, to detect traces that are suggestive of preserved martian microbiota. However, the confirmation of microfossils or preserved biosignatures will likely require the return of samples to terrestrial laboratories. Published by Elsevier Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20-30
Number of pages11
JournalIcarus
Volume171
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 1 2004

Fingerprint

rock varnish
varnishes
microorganisms
hematite
mars
Mars
microorganism
deposits
ferricrete
rocks
mineralization
iron
iron hydroxide
banded iron formation
water-rock interaction
manganese oxide
thermal spring
microfossil
iron oxide
coating

Keywords

  • Exobiology
  • Hematite
  • Mars
  • Meridiani Planum
  • Microfossil
  • Rock varnish

Cite this

Meridiani Planum hematite deposit and the search for evidence of life on Mars - Iron mineralization of microorganisms in rock varnish. / Allen, Carlton C.; Probst, Luke W.; Flood, Beverly E.; Longazo, Teresa G.; Schelble, Rachel T.; Westall, Frances.

In: Icarus, Vol. 171, No. 1, 01.09.2004, p. 20-30.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Allen, Carlton C. ; Probst, Luke W. ; Flood, Beverly E. ; Longazo, Teresa G. ; Schelble, Rachel T. ; Westall, Frances. / Meridiani Planum hematite deposit and the search for evidence of life on Mars - Iron mineralization of microorganisms in rock varnish. In: Icarus. 2004 ; Vol. 171, No. 1. pp. 20-30.
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