Mineralogy, composition, and alteration of Mars Pathfinder rocks and soils: Evidence from multispectral, elemental, and magnetic data on terrestrial analogue, SNC meteorite, and Pathfinder samples

Richard V. Morris, D. C. Golden, James F. Bell, Tad D. Shelfer, Andreas C. Scheinost, Nancy W. Hinman, George Furniss, Stanley A. Mertzman, Janice L. Bishop, Douglas W. Ming, Carlton C. Allen, Daniel T. Britt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

284 Scopus citations


Major element, multispectral, and magnetic properties data were obtained at Ares Vallis during the Mars Pathfinder mission. To understand the compositional, mineralogical, and process implications of these data, we obtained major element, mineralogical, and magnetic data for well-crystalline and nanophase ferric minerals, terrestrial analogue samples with known geologic context, and SNC meteorites. Analogue samples include unaltered, palagonitic, and sulfatetic tephra from Mauna Kea Volcano (hydrolytic and acid-sulfate alteration), steam vent material from Kilauea Volcano (hydrolytic alteration), and impactites from Meteor Crater (relithification). Salient results for Mars Pathfinder include: (1) Band depths BD530b and BD600 and the reflectivity ratio R800/R750 are consistent with the dominant ferric mineral being nanophase ferric oxide associated with an unknown amount of H2O and occurring in composite particles along with subordinate amounts of other ferric minerals. Hematite and hematite plus nanophase goethite are most consistent with the data, but maghemite, akaganéite, schwertmannite, and nanophase lepidocrocite are also possible interpretations. Ferric oxides that are consistently not favored by the data as sole alteration products are jarosites and well-crystalline goethite and lepidocrocite. (2) The strength of the ferric adsorption edge (R750/R445) implies the Fe3+Fe2+ values for Pathfinder rock and soil are within the ranges 0.7-3 and 3-20, respectively. (3) Ferrous silicates are indicated for subsets of Pathfinder rocks and soils. One subset has a band minimum near 930 nm that can attributed to low-Ca pyroxene. Alternatively, the band could be a second manifestation of certain ferric oxides, including nanophase goethite, maghemite, akaganéite, and schwertmannite. Another subset has a negative spectral slope from ∼800 to 1005 nm which could result from the high-energy wing of a high-Ca pyroxene and/or olivine band, a mixture of bright and dark materials, and, for rocks, thin coatings of bright dust on dark rocks. (4) Chemical data on Pathfinder rocks and soils are consistent with two-component mixtures between an "andesitic" rock with low MgO and SO3 concentrations (soil-free rock) and a global, basaltic soil with high MgO and SO3 concentrations (rock-free soil). Pathfinder rock-free soil can be modeled as a chemical mixture of SNC meteorites and the Pathfinder soil-free rock. (5) Pathfinder soil cannot be obtained by chemical alteration of Pathfinder rocks by any of the hydrolytic and acid-sulfate alteration processes we studied. Presumably, global mixing has obscured and possibly erased the elemental signatures of chemical alteration. (6) The strongly magnetic phase in palagonitic and sulfatetic tephra is titanomagnetite and possibly its oxidation product titanomaghemite (Fe-Ti spinels). The saturation magnetization of the tephra samples (0.5-2.0 Am2/kg) is at or below the low end of the range inferred for Martian dust (4±2 Am2/kg), implying that lithogenic Fe-Ti spinels are a possible candidate for the Martian strongly magnetic phase. (7) The predominantly palagonitic spectral signature and magnetic nature of Martian soil and dust are consistent with glassy precursors with imbedded Fe-Ti spinel particles. Comparison with lunar glass production rates suggests that production of sufficient quantities of glassy materials on Mars by volcanic and impact processes is sufficient to account for these observations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1999JE001059
Pages (from-to)1757-1817
Number of pages61
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue numberE1
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Oceanography
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Atmospheric Science


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