X-Ray Amorphous Components in Sedimentary Rocks of Gale Crater, Mars: Evidence for Ancient Formation and Long-Lived Aqueous Activity

R. J. Smith, S. M. McLennan, C. N. Achilles, E. Dehouck, B. H.N. Horgan, N. Mangold, E. B. Rampe, M. Salvatore, K. L. Siebach, V. Sun

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21 Scopus citations


The CheMin instrument on the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity detected ubiquitous high abundances (∼15–70 wt%) of X-ray amorphous components (AmCs) in ancient sedimentary rocks of Gale crater. Mechanisms and timing of formation for the AmCs are poorly constrained, and could include volcanic, impact, or aqueous processes. We explore trends in AmC composition and abundance, and look for systematic compositional variation between sites within Gale crater. AmC compositions were estimated indirectly based on bulk chemistry and the nature and abundance of the crystalline phases for 19 sedimentary rock samples. AmC abundances positively correlate with AmC SiO2 contents, and a mixing relationship appears to exist between SiO2-rich and FeOT-rich AmC endmembers. Endmember compositions are inconsistent with volcanic or impact glass alone, and so we conclude that the SiO2 and FeOT contents formed largely through aqueous processes. Cross-cutting relationships and geologic context provide evidence that the most SiO2-rich AmCs observed in Gale crater thus far may result from interactions with localized fluids during late diagenesis. AmCs with moderate to low SiO2 contents likely formed earlier (before or soon after sediment deposition). Thus, the AmC SiO2 and FeOT contents in Gale crater rocks represent mixtures of sedimentary materials formed over most of the sedimentary history of Gale crater, starting before the first sediments were deposited in the crater (late Noachian), and ending well after the youngest sediments were lithified (at least mid-Hesperian). However, it remains unclear how these metastable minerals have persisted through billions of years of diagenesis in Gale crater sediments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020JE006782
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Mars
  • X-ray amorphous
  • aqueous alteration
  • curiosity rover
  • diagenesis
  • gale crater

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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