Layered sediments on Mars deposited by impacts instead of by liquid water

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Layered deposits on Mars imaged by the three rovers are generally inferred to have been deposited by liquid water (or wind or volcanism), consistent with interpretations based on orbital imaging. This interpretation implies early Mars was warm and wet, despite long-standing problems with modeling this case. As an alternative hypothesis, rapid sediment deposition during Late Noachian impact bombardment followed by local hydration and alteration of sediment by surficial acid condensates and (at least in Gale Crater) by chemically neutral groundwater can explain all the observed sediment features, such as ubiquitous low-angle cross-bedding, primitive basaltic compositions, persistent acidic salts, abundant amorphous materials, immature clays, high friability with low bulk densities, planar scoured unconformities, and rounded cobbles from rock tumbling. In other words, the ground-observed mineralogy, geochemistry, and sedimentology do not require and even are inconsistent with deposition from liquid water. Unlike the Moon, early Mars is believed to have had an atmosphere and water, perhaps mostly frozen. If so, impacts should have formed turbulent ground-hugging impactoclastic density currents capable of traveling hundreds of kilometers, and even globally. As terrestrial analogs, smaller-scale density currents are widespread around explosive volcanoes and nuclear test sites, whereas terrestrial impact analogs are lacking. Steam condensation on particles causes accretionary lapilli to form, grow to a maximum size, and fall out on layered deposits, and similar spherules have been observed by two of three rovers. Explaining these spherules as normal sedimentary concretions at Meridiani Planum required ignoring some of the observations. Ancient sediments on Mars that superficially resemble terrestrial aqueous deposits could therefore actually have resulted from impact cratering, the dominant geologic process in the early solar system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSpecial Paper of the Geological Society of America
EditorsG.R. Foulger, L.C. Hamilton, D.M. Jurdy, C.A. Stein, K.A. Howard, S. Stein
PublisherGeological Society of America
Number of pages8
StatePublished - May 3 2022

Publication series

NameSpecial Paper of the Geological Society of America
ISSN (Print)0072-1077

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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