Petrology on Mars

Harry Y. McSween Jr.

American Mineralogist
doi: 10.2138/am-2015-5257
Volume 100 no. 11-12 p. 2380-2395

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“Petrologic investigations of martian rocks have been accomplished by mineralogical, geochemical, and textural analyses from Mars rovers (with geologic context provided by orbiters), and by laboratory analyses of martian meteorites. Igneous rocks are primarily lavas and volcaniclastic rocks of basaltic composition, and ultramafic cumulates; alkaline rocks are common in ancient terranes and tholeiitic rocks occur in younger terranes, suggesting global magmatic evolution. Relatively uncommon feldspathic rocks represent the ultimate fractionation products, and granitic rocks are unknown. Sedimentary rocks are of both clastic (mudstone, sandstone, conglomerate, all containing significant igneous detritus) and chemical (evaporitic sulfate and less common carbonate) origin. High-silica sediments formed by hydrothermal activity. Sediments on Mars formed from different protoliths and were weathered under different environmental conditions from terrestrial sediments. Metamorphic rocks have only been inferred from orbital remote-sensing measurements. Metabasalt and serpentinite have mineral assemblages consistent with those predicted from low-pressure phase equilibria and likely formed in geothermal systems. Shock effects are common in martian meteorites, and impact breccias are probably widespread in the planet’s crustal rocks. The martian rock cycle during early periods was similar in many respects to that of Earth. However, without plate tectonics Mars did not experience the thermal metamorphism and flux melting associated with subduction, nor deposition in subsided basins and rapid erosion resulting from tectonic uplift. The rock cycle during more recent time has been truncated by desiccation of the planet’s surface and a lower geothermal gradient in its interior. The petrology of Mars is intriguingly different from Earth, but the tried-and-true methods of petrography and geochemistry are clearly translatable to another world. “