The global topography of Mars and implications for surface evolution.
Elevations measured by the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter have yielded a high-accuracy global map of the topography of Mars. Dominant features include the low northern hemisphere, the Tharsis province, and the Hellas impact basin. The northern hemisphere depression is primarily a long-wavelength effect that has been shaped by an internal mechanism. The topography of Tharsis consists of two broad rises. Material excavated from Hellas contributes to the high elevation of the southern hemisphere and to the scarp along the hemispheric boundary. The present topography has three major drainage centers, with the northern lowlands being the largest. The two polar cap volumes yield an upper limit of the present surface water inventory of 3.2 to 4.7 million cubic kilometers. (+info)
A post-stishovite SiO2 polymorph in the meteorite Shergotty: implications for impact events.
Transmission electron microscopy and electron diffraction show that the martian meteorite Shergotty, a shocked achondrite, contains a dense orthorhombic SiO2 phase similar to post-stishovite SiO2 with the alpha-PbO2 structure. If an SiO2 mineral exists in Earth's lower mantle, it would probably occur in a post-stishovite SiO2 structure. The presence of such a high-density polymorph in a shocked sample indicates that post-stishovite SiO2 structures may be used as indicators of extreme shock pressures. (+info)
Amino acids in the Martian meteorite Nakhla.
A suite of protein and nonprotein amino acids were detected with high-performance liquid chromatography in the water- and acid-soluble components of an interior fragment of the Martian meteorite Nakhla, which fell in Egypt in 1911. Aspartic and glutamic acids, glycine, alanine, beta-alanine, and gamma-amino-n-butyric acid (gamma-ABA) were the most abundant amino acids detected and were found primarily in the 6 M HCl-hydrolyzed, hot water extract. The concentrations ranged from 20 to 330 parts per billion of bulk meteorite. The amino acid distribution in Nakhla, including the D/L ratios (values range from <0.1 to 0.5), is similar to what is found in bacterially degraded organic matter. The amino acids in Nakhla appear to be derived from terrestrial organic matter that infiltrated the meteorite soon after its fall to Earth, although it is possible that some of the amino acids are endogenous to the meteorite. The rapid amino acid contamination of Martian meteorites after direct exposure to the terrestrial environment has important implications for Mars sample-return missions and the curation of the samples from the time of their delivery to Earth. (+info)
The age of the carbonates in martian meteorite ALH84001.
The age of secondary carbonate mineralization in the martian meteorite ALH84001 was determined to be 3.90 +/- 0.04 billion years by rubidium-strontium (Rb-Sr) dating and 4.04 +/- 0.10 billion years by lead-lead (Pb-Pb) dating. The Rb-Sr and Pb-Pb isochrons are defined by leachates of a mixture of high-graded carbonate (visually estimated as approximately 5 percent), whitlockite (trace), and orthopyroxene (approximately 95 percent). The carbonate formation age is contemporaneous with a period in martian history when the surface is thought to have had flowing water, but also was undergoing heavy bombardment by meteorites. Therefore, this age does not distinguish between aqueous and impact origins for the carbonates. (+info)
The gravity field of Mars: results from Mars Global Surveyor.
Observations of the gravity field of Mars reveal a planet that has responded differently in its northern and southern hemispheres to major impacts and volcanic processes. The rough, elevated southern hemisphere has a relatively featureless gravitational signature indicating a state of near-isostatic compensation, whereas the smooth, low northern plains display a wider range of gravitational anomalies that indicates a thinner but stronger surface layer than in the south. The northern hemisphere shows evidence for buried impact basins, although none large enough to explain the hemispheric elevation difference. The gravitational potential signature of Tharsis is approximately axisymmetric and contains the Tharsis Montes but not the Olympus Mons or Alba Patera volcanoes. The gravity signature of Valles Marineris extends into Chryse and provides an estimate of material removed by early fluvial activity. (+info)
Possible ancient oceans on Mars: evidence from Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter data.
High-resolution altimetric data define the detailed topography of the northern lowlands of Mars, and a range of data is consistent with the hypothesis that a lowland-encircling geologic contact represents the ancient shoreline of a large standing body of water present in middle Mars history. The contact altitude is close to an equipotential line, the topography is smoother at all scales below the contact than above it, the volume enclosed by this contact is within the range of estimates of available water on Mars, and a series of extensive terraces parallel the contact in many places. (+info)
Atmospheric energy for subsurface life on Mars?
The location and density of biologically useful energy sources on Mars will limit the biomass, spatial distribution, and organism size of any biota. Subsurface Martian organisms could be supplied with a large energy flux from the oxidation of photochemically produced atmospheric H(2) and CO diffusing into the regolith. However, surface abundance measurements of these gases demonstrate that no more than a few percent of this available flux is actually being consumed, suggesting that biological activity driven by atmospheric H(2) and CO is limited in the top few hundred meters of the subsurface. This is significant because the available but unused energy is extremely large: for organisms at 30-m depth, it is 2,000 times previous estimates of hydrothermal and chemical weathering energy and far exceeds the energy derivable from other atmospheric gases. This also implies that the apparent scarcity of life on Mars is not attributable to lack of energy. Instead, the availability of liquid water may be a more important factor limiting biological activity because the photochemical energy flux can only penetrate to 100- to 1,000-m depth, where most H(2)O is probably frozen. Because both atmospheric and Viking lander soil data provide little evidence for biological activity, the detection of short-lived trace gases will probably be a better indicator of any extant Martian life. (+info)
The missing organic molecules on Mars.
GC-MS on the Viking 1976 Mars missions did not detect organic molecules on the Martian surface, even those expected from meteorite bombardment. This result suggested that the Martian regolith might hold a potent oxidant that converts all organic molecules to carbon dioxide rapidly relative to the rate at which they arrive. This conclusion is influencing the design of Mars missions. We reexamine this conclusion in light of what is known about the oxidation of organic compounds generally and the nature of organics likely to come to Mars via meteorite. We conclude that nonvolatile salts of benzenecarboxylic acids, and perhaps oxalic and acetic acid, should be metastable intermediates of meteoritic organics under oxidizing conditions. Salts of these organic acids would have been largely invisible to GC-MS. Experiments show that one of these, benzenehexacarboxylic acid (mellitic acid), is generated by oxidation of organic matter known to come to Mars, is rather stable to further oxidation, and would not have been easily detected by the Viking experiments. Approximately 2 kg of meteorite-derived mellitic acid may have been generated per m(2) of Martian surface over 3 billion years. How much remains depends on decomposition rates under Martian conditions. As available data do not require that the surface of Mars be very strongly oxidizing, some organic molecules might be found near the surface of Mars, perhaps in amounts sufficient to be a resource. Missions should seek these and recognize that these complicate the search for organics from entirely hypothetical Martian life. (+info)