Dark, windblown (eolian) sand on Mars has produced significant geologic effects throughout Martian history. Although local and regional sand sources have been identified, a primary origin, or genesis, for Martian sand has not been demonstrated. This knowledge gap was recently heightened by the discovery of widespread sand motion, implying breakdown of grains to sub-sand sizes. To address the question of sand genesis, we investigated the source(s) of sand in Aeolis Dorsa (AD), the westernmost Medusae Fossae Formation, using comparisons to sand potentially sourced from multiple regions, each connoting a different sand genesis. Our methods included comparison of (1) AD sand mineralogies with those of possible sand source features, and (2) mapped AD sand deposits and inferred emplacement directions with modeled sand deposit locations and transport pathways. The results point to a time-transgressive unit, interpreted as pyroclastic, as a source of dark sand. High-resolution images of this unit reveal outcrops with dark sand weathering out of lithified bedrock. Given the extent of interpreted pyroclastic deposits on Mars, this sand genesis mechanism is likely widespread today and operated throughout Martian history. Whereas this work identified olivine-rich sand, a range of original pyroclastic lithologies would account for the mineralogic variability of dune fields on Mars. These findings can be tested through analyses of other pyroclastic deposits and potentially by data from the NASA Curiosity rover in nearby Gale crater.
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