Dr. Nathalie Cabrol

December 19, 2006

“Survey and Exploration of Environments Favorable to Water and Life on Mars and Their Terrestrial Analogs”

NCC 2–1328

This project focuses on the survey and exploration of aqueous environments that might be favorable to life on Mars and the investigation of terrestrial analogs. To achieve this goal, we propose synergetic research focusing on this theme from various and complementary perspectives that we will initially organize into three tasks, with the possible addition of a fourth task, pending approval of funding:

Task 1 characterizes the Martian ancient and recent, possibly current, aqueous environments. This task is the follow up on our previous years’ investigation of aqueous environments at Viking resolution. This research debouched on the production of the first impact crater paleolake catalog. It expands with this proposal in three direction: (a) the study of the deltas that we identified while completing the catalog, (b) the characterization of recent aqueous environments (e.g., glaciers, rock glaciers) that we discovered while surveying the Mars Global Surveyor MOC image archives. This characterization is an essential step in our research as one cannot understand the past water history of Mars if the clues for potential current activity are not deciphered, and (c) the reconstruction of ancient basin dynamics through the evaluation of the sequence and extent of various landform-modifying processes that have shaped several regional areas of topical interest in the Martian highlands.

Task 2 characterizes the Martian fluids and the chemical sediments that could potential have formed in the basins we identified and new ones discovered by the Mars Global Surveyor mission. This task is a natural continuation of Task 1. The nature of evaporites formed under Martian conditions is poorly understood. Laboratory studies investigating the formation of brines and evaporites would greatly aid in improving our understanding of these materials. To date, only a very limited number of laboratory investigations have been conducted which have any bearing on a better understanding of various processes related to evaporate and brine formation or characterization on Mars. It is also an essential step to better understand the astrobiological potential of these sites for future exploration.

Task 3 will provide the ground-truth necessary to collect the data to support our observational and theoretical research on Martian aqueous environments. This task is focusing on the acquisition of data in terrestrial analogs to surveyed Martian sites. It includes the investigation of sites which each carries a critical element of information to better understand various Martian aqueous environments and more efficiently prepare the future missions. Two of them are specifically investigated as a support to the 2003 Mars Exploration Rover (MER) missions. They are: the Licancabur hydrothermally heated crater lake and the El Lago hematite site located within 100 km of each other in the Atacama Desert, Chile. The third site is the newly discovered 120-km diameter Woodleigh impact structure that contains hundreds of meters of Jurassic aqueous sediment and provides a relevant testbed for hypotheses regarding Martian impact crater paleolakes.