Meteorites on Mars as planetary research tools with special considerations for Martian weathering processes
The occurrence of exogenic, meteoritic materials on the surface of any world presents opportunities to explore a variety of significant problems in the planetary sciences. In the case of Mars, meteorites found on its surface may help to 1) constrain atmospheric conditions during their time of arrival; 2) provide insights into possible variabilities in meteoroid type sampling between Mars and Earth space environments; 3) aid in our understanding of soil, dust, and sedimentary rock chemistry; 4) assist with the calibration of crater-age dating techniques; and 5) provide witness samples for chemical and mechanical weathering processes. The presence of reduced metallic iron in approximately 88 percent of meteorite falls renders the majority of meteorites particularly sensitive to oxidation by H2O interaction. This makes them excellent markers for H2O occurrence. Several large meteorites have been discovered at Gusev Crater and Meridiani Planum by the Mars Exploration Rovers (MERs). Significant morphologic characteristics interpretable as weathering features in the Meridiani suite of iron meteorites include a 1) large pit lined with delicate iron protrusions suggestive of inclusion removal by corrosive interaction; 2) differentially eroded kamacite and taenite lamellae on three of the meteorites, providing relative timing through cross-cutting relationships with deposition of 3) an iron oxide-rich dark coating; and 4) regmaglypted surfaces testifying to regions of minimal surface modification; with other regions in the same meteorites exhibiting 5) large-scale, cavernous weathering. Iron meteorites found by Mini-TES at both Meridiani Planum and Gusev Crater have prompted laboratory experiments designed to explore elements of reflectivity, dust cover, and potential oxide coatings on their surfaces in the thermal infrared using analog samples. Results show that dust thickness on an iron substrate need be only one tenth as great as that on a silicate rock to obscure its infrared signal. In addition, a database of thermal emission spectra for 46 meteorites was prepared to aid in the on-going detection and interpretation of these valuable rocks on Mars using Mini-TES instruments on both MER spacecraft. Applications to the asteroidal sciences are also relevant and intended for this database.