Dr. Janice Bishop

December 19, 2006

"Martian Surface Composition and its Practical Applications to Astrobiology"


Martian surface alteration processes are under study through analysis of spectral, magnetic and chemical data from Mars and analysis of analogue materials in the laboratory. The kinds of Mars surface analogues studied include Martian meteorites, volcanic tephra, sediments from the Dry Valleys region of Antarctica and hydrothermal rocks. Pure minerals, such as iron oxides, sulfates, carbonates and silicates, found in these samples are studied, as well, in order to better characterize and identify them or related materials on Mars. Many of these minerals are associated with organisms and may be useful as indicators of life or environments supportive of life on Mars or other planets.

An important component of studying alteration processes on Mars is addressing the question of chemical alteration and water. There has been much speculation about the presence of water on Mars based on geomorphology. Many kinds of chemical alteration require liquid water, and hence, identification of minerals produced through aqueous processes would provide another line of evidence for the putative liquid water on Mars. Identifying minerals and/or processes requiring the presence of water will have important implications for Astrobiology on Mars.

A number of the minerals and phases studied as potential Mars analogue materials contain nanophase components and will utilize new forms of nanotechnology. These materials may have formed through alteration of volcanic material or precipitation in hydrothermal springs. Nanophase silicate fragments and/or ferric oxides and hydroxides frequently comprise these materials and are consistent with many of the properties of the dust on Mars. Research covered by this Cooperative Agreement includes characterizing the spectral, chemical and structural properties of nanophase silicate and oxide minerals.

The primary task under this Cooperative Agreement is for work funded by Dr. Bishop as a Co-I on the CRISM (Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars) team, where Dr. Bishop is leading the spectral identification tasks related to hydrated minerals and surface alteration. Additional tasks are for work funded through the ASTID and MFR programs. Tasks in this Coop also involve the design and construction of instruments for Mars missions in collaboration with Dr. David Blake, via subcontracts with Apparati, Inc. and InXitu.