A provenance tool for Mars exploration: dating of fine-grained sedimentary rocks

Lead Research Organisation: Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC)
Department Name: SUERC


We propose a multidisciplinary PhD studentship to test the hypothesis presented
above. The studentship will determine whether it is possible to invert the model of VanLaningham
& Mark (2011) to resolve the age of the mineralogical end members of fine-grained sedimentary
rocks, such as those found in Gale Crater. To do this, simulated model runs using the data of
VanLaningham & Mark (2011) estimate that at least 50 to 60 heating steps are required during
sample analysis (considerably more than the c. 20 that a normal dating study would utilize) and a
multiple Gaussian algorithm is needed to examine the step heating data, isolate different mineral
phases and capture the age of each dominant mineral phase within the sample. As well as age
profiles, we will determine both maximum and minimum depositional ages for the sedimentary
rocks. In addition, we will conduct similar experiments on the Martian regolith meteorite NWA 7034
(sample already acquired) to reconstruct the age profile of the regolith breccia. The project tackles
questions that are central to current Mars exploration. For example, one of the goals of the
ExoMars programme is to 'search for signs of past and present life on Mars' for which we need
chronological information to identify target rocks from specific periods of Mars' history (some more
favorable to life than others). This PhD studentship will provide a context for interpretation of data
such as that generated by MSL (Farley et al., 2014) and open new avenues for future
geochronological missions to focus on. The project is also aligned with STFC strategy and
specifically 'how do stars and planetary systems develop and is life unique to our planet?'


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