The case for ancient hot springs in gusev crater, mars

Steven W. Ruff, Kathleen A. Campbell, Martin J. Van Kranendonk, Melissa S. Rice, Jack D. Farmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


The origin and age of opaline silica deposits discovered by the Spirit rover adjacent to the Home Plate feature in the Columbia Hills of Gusev crater remains debated, in part because of their proximity to sulfur-rich soils. Processes related to fumarolic activity and to hot springs and/or geysers are the leading candidates. Both processes are known to produce opaline silica on Earth, but with differences in composition, morphology, texture, and stratigraphy. Here, we incorporate new and existing observations of the Home Plate region with observations from field and laboratory work to address the competing hypotheses. The results, which include new evidence for a hot spring vent mound, demonstrate that a volcanic hydrothermal system manifesting both hot spring/geyser and fumarolic activity best explains the opaline silica rocks and proximal S-rich materials, respectively. The opaline silica rocks most likely are sinter deposits derived from hot spring activity. Stratigraphic evidence indicates that their deposition occurred before the emplacement of the volcaniclastic deposits comprising Home Plate and nearby ridges. Because sinter deposits throughout geologic history on Earth preserve evidence for microbial life, they are a key target in the search for ancient life on Mars.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)475-499
Number of pages25
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2020


  • Astrobiology
  • Columbia Hills
  • Hot springs
  • Mars
  • Opaline silica
  • Sinter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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