Curious Mars

Visible-Near Infrared Point Spectrometry of Drill Core Samples from Rio Tinto, Spain: Results from the 2005 Mars Astrobiology Research and Technology Experiment (MARTE) Drilling Exercise

Astrobiology. October 2008, 8(5): 1049-1060.

Sampling of subsurface rock may be required to detect evidence of past biological activity on Mars. The Mars Astrobiology Research and Technology Experiment (MARTE) utilized the Rio Tinto region, Spain, as a Mars analog site to test dry drilling technologies specific to Mars that retrieve subsurface rock for biological analysis. This work examines the usefulness of visible-near infrared (VNIR) (450-1000 nm) point spectrometry to characterize ferric iron minerals in core material retrieved during a simulated Mars drilling mission. VNIR spectrometry can indicate the presence of aqueously precipitated ferric iron minerals and, thus, determine whether biological analysis of retrieved rock is warranted. Core spectra obtained during the mission with T1 (893-897 nm) and T2 (644-652 nm) features indicate goethite-dominated samples, while relatively lower wavelength T1 (832-880 nm) features indicate hematite. Hematite/goethite molar ratios varied from 0 to 1.4, and within the 880-898 nm range, T1 features were used to estimate hematite/goethite molar ratios. Post-mission X-ray analysis detected phyllosilicates, which indicates that examining beyond the VNIR (e.g., shortwave infrared, 1000-2500 nm) will enhance the detection of other minerals formed by aqueous processes.

Despite the limited spectral range of VNIR point spectrometry utilized in the MARTE Mars drilling simulation project, ferric iron minerals could be identified in retrieved core material, and their distribution served to direct core subsampling for biological analysis. Astrobiology 8, 1049-1060.

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