Global hydrated mineral map of Mars

New Mars water map will prove invaluable for future exploration missions

Data from ESA’s Mars Express and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been used to create the first detailed global map of hydrated deposits on Mars. See below for annotated versions of mineral types and abundances. Image credits: ESA/Mars Express (OMEGA) and NASA/Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (CRISM)

a new map

Mars is the second smallest planet in our solar system and the fourth planet from the sun. It’s a dusty, cold desert world with a very thin atmosphere.Iron oxide is ubiquitous on the surface of Mars, giving it its red color and its nickname "red planet." Mars is named after the Roman god of war.

“data-gt-translation-attributes=”[{” attribute=””>Mars is altering our perception of the planet’s watery past, and indicating potential landing sites for future missions.

The map shows mineral deposits across the red planet. It has been painstakingly created over the last decade using data from ESA’s Mars Express Observatoire pour la Mineralogie, l’Eau, les Glaces et l’Activité (OMEGA) instrument and

Specifically, the map displays the locations and abundances of aqueous minerals. These come from rocks that have been chemically transformed by the action of water in the past, and have typically been converted into clays and salts.

Global Map of Hydrated Minerals on Mars

Data from two Mars missions have been used to create the first detailed global map of hydrated mineral deposits on Mars. These minerals are predominately clays and salts, and can be used to tell the history of water in the planet’s various regions. For the most part, the clays were created on Mars during its early wet period, whereas many of the salts that are still visible today were produced as the water gradually dried up.
Various landing sites and areas of interest are shown on the map. Mawrth Vallis is an ancient water outflow channel that is rich in clays. Oxia Planum is another clay-rich region and has been selected as the landing site for ESA’s Rosalind Franklin rover. Meridiani Planum straddles the martian equator and was the landing spot for NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity in 2004. Valles Marineris is one of the largest canyons in the Solar System. Gale crater and Jezero crater were the landing sites of NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance rovers in 2012 and 2020 respectively.
The clays shown on the map include iron and magnesium phyllosilicates, zeolites, and aluminosilicate clays. The salts shown are carbonates made of carbon and oxygen. Credit: ESA/Mars Express (OMEGA) and NASA/Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (CRISM)

On Earth, clays are created when water interacts with rocks, with different conditions giving rise to different types of clays. For instance, clay minerals such as smectite and vermiculite form when relatively small amounts of water interact with the rock. Therefore, they retain mostly the same chemical elements as the original volcanic rocks. In the case of smectite and vermiculite, those elements are iron and magnesium. The rocks can be altered more when the amount of water is relatively high. Soluble elements tend to be carried away leaving behind aluminum-rich clays such as kaolin.

The big surprise for researchers is the prevalence of these minerals. Ten years ago, planetary scientists only knew of around 1000 outcrops on Mars. This made them interesting as geological oddities. However, the new map has reversed the situation, revealing hundreds of thousands of such areas in the oldest parts of the planet.

“This work has now established that when you are studying the ancient terrains in detail, not seeing these minerals is actually the oddity,” says John Carter, Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale (IAS) and Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille (LAM), Université Paris-Saclay and Aix Marseille Université, France.

The European Space Agency’s Mars Express and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have mapped the water-rich rocks on Mars. A new global map is changing how we think about Earth’s past waters and showing where we can land future missions for further exploration. A big surprise was the ubiquity of these minerals, with the map showing hundreds of thousands of water-influenced sites in the oldest regions of the planet. The new data will help answer exciting questions about Mars’ climate history, whether water persists on a global scale or is limited to brief, intense events, and whether these conditions are suitable for life to exist.Credit: ESA – European Space Agency

This is a paradigm shift in our understanding of the history of the Red Planet. It seems plausible that the range and duration of water is limited due to the small amount of water-based minerals we previously knew existed. However, there is now no doubt that water has played a huge role in shaping the geology around the planet.

Now, the key question is whether water persists or is limited to shorter, more intense events. While a definitive answer has not yet been provided, the new results undoubtedly give scientists a more powerful tool in their quest for answers.

“I think we collectively oversimplified Mars,” Carter said. He explained that planetary scientists tend to think that only a few clay minerals on Mars formed during wet periods, and then as the water dries up, the entire planet produces salt.

This new map suggests it’s more complicated than previously thought. While many Martian salts may have formed later than clays, the map shows many exceptions where salts and clays are intimately mixed. Some salts are even considered older than some clays.

Jezero Crater Water Rich Minerals

Jezero crater on Mars and its surrounding area displays rich minerals that have been altered by water in Earth’s past. These minerals are mainly clays and carbonates. Among the minerals found in this particular area, carbonate is a salt, Fe/Mg phyllosilicate is a clay rich in iron and magnesium, and hydrated silica is a form of silica that can form gems on Earth opal. Feature data was obtained from global mineral maps produced by ESA’s Mars Express and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. NASA’s Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars in 2020, is currently exploring Jezero Crater and its surrounding area. Image credits: ESA/Mars Express (OMEGA and HRSC) and NASA/Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (CRISM and HiRISE)

“The evolution from a lot of water to no water is not as clear-cut as we thought, and water doesn’t stop overnight. We see a wide variety of geological contexts, so there is no single process or simple timeline that can explain Martian mineralogy The evolution of . This is the first result of our study. The second is that if you exclude life processes on Earth, Mars exhibits diverse mineralogy in geological settings, just like Earth does,” he said.

In other words, the more we look closely, the more complex Mars’ past becomes.

OMEGA and CRISM instruments are well suited for this investigation. Their datasets are highly complementary, operate in the same wavelength range, and are sensitive to the same minerals. CRISM uniquely provides high-resolution spectral imaging of the surface (down to 15m/pixel) for highly localized Martian patches, making it optimal for mapping small regions of interest, such as rover landing sites. For example, the map shows that the Jezero crater, currently being explored by NASA’s 2020 Perseverance rover, displays rich and diverse hydrated minerals.

On the other hand, Omega provides global coverage of Mars with higher spectral resolution and better signal-to-noise ratio. This makes it more suitable for global and regional mapping and to distinguish different alteration minerals.

Oxia Planum Water Rich Minerals

The Oxia Planum region was found to be rich in clay as part of the construction of a new global Martian mineral map. These clays include iron- and magnesium-rich smectite and vermiculite minerals, as well as the local kaolin clay known on Earth as china clay. Hydrated silica has also been mapped on an ancient delta in Oxia. Feature data was obtained from global mineral maps produced by ESA’s Mars Express and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Because the clay is formed in a water-rich environment, these sites are excellent places to study for clues as to whether life ever started on Mars. Oxia Planum was selected as the landing site for ESA’s Rosalind Franklin rover. Image credit: ESA/Mars Express (OMEGA and HRSC) and NASA/Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (CRISM)

The results were published in two scientific papers by Carter, Lucy Rieu and colleagues. Lucie worked for Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (ISAS)

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) was established in 2003 by the merger of three institutions: the Institute of Astronautical Sciences (ISAS), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (NAL) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. (Nasdaq). JAXA engages in a variety of aerospace-related activities, from basic research to development and utilization in the aerospace field, and is responsible for research, technology development, and satellite launches into orbit, and is involved in advanced missions such as asteroid detection and possible human exploration. moon.

“data-gt-translation-attributes=”[{” attribute=””>JAXA), Sagamihara, Japan, when part of the work was performed but is now an ESA Research Fellow at ESA’s European Space Astronomy Center (ESAC) in Madrid.

With the basic detections in hand, Lucie decided to take the next step and quantify the amounts of the minerals that were present. “If we know where, and in which percentage each mineral is present, it gives us a better idea of how those minerals could have been formed,” she says.

Due to two factors, this work also provides mission planners with several excellent candidates for potential future landing sites. First off, water molecules are still present in the aqueous minerals. Together with known locations of buried water-ice, this offers potential areas for water extraction for In-situ Resource Utilization, which is essential to the building of human bases on Mars. Salts and clays are often used construction materials on Earth. 

Secondly, even before humans go to Mars, the aqueous minerals provide fantastic locations in which to perform science. As part of this mineral mapping campaign, the clay-rich site of Oxia Planum was discovered. These ancient clays include the iron and magnesium-rich minerals of smectite and vermiculite. Not only can they help unlock the planet’s past climate, but they are perfect sites to investigate whether there was once life on Mars. As such, Oxia Planum was proposed and finally selected as the landing site for ESA’s Rosalind Franklin rover.

“This is what I am interested in, and I think this kind of mapping work will help open up those studies going forward,” says Lucie.

As ever when dealing with Mars, the more we learn about the planet, the more fascinating it becomes.


“A Mars Orbital Catalog of Aqueous Alteration Signatures (MOCAAS)” by John Carter, Lucie Riu, François Poulet, Jean-Pierre Bibring, Yves Langevin and Brigitte Gondet, 20 August 2022, Icarus.
DOI: 10.1016/j.icarus.2022.115164

“The M3 project: 3 – Global abundance distribution of hydrated silicates at Mars” by Lucie Riu, John Carter and François Poulet, 25 November 2021, Icarus.
DOI: 10.1016/j.icarus.2021.114809

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