Biogenic Catalysis of Soil Formation on Mars?

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Abstract

The high iron abundance and the weak ferric iron spectral features of martian surface material are consistent with nanophase (nm-sized) iron oxide minerals as a major source of iron in the bright region soil on Mars. Nanophase iron oxide minerals, such as ferrihydrite and schwertmannite, and nanophase forms of hematite and goethite are formed by both biotic and abiotic processes on Earth. The presence of these minerals on Mars does not indicate biological activity on Mars, but it does raise the possibility. This work includes speculation regarding the possibility of biogenic soils on Mars based on previous observations and analyses. A remote sensing goal of upcoming missions should be to determine if nanophase iron oxide minerals, clay silicates and carbonates are present in the martian surface material. These minerals are important indicators for exobiology and their presence on Mars would invoke a need for further investigation and sample return from these sites.

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