The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover, Curiosity, has been exploring sedimentary rocks within Gale crater since landing in August, 2012. On the lower slopes of Aeolis Mons (a.k.a. Mount Sharp), drill powder was collected from a high-silica (74 wt% SiO2) outcrop named Buckskin (BK). It was a surprise to find that the Buckskin sample contained significant amounts of the relatively rare silica polymorph tridymite. We describe the setting of the Buckskin sample, the detection of tridymite by the MSL Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) X-ray diffraction instrument, and detection implications. Geologic setting: The Buckskin outcrop is part of the Murray formation exposed in the Marias Pass area. The formation was previously studied by CheMin in the Pahrump Hills member  where three samples of drill fines were analyzed (Confidence Hills (CH), Mojave2 (MJ) and Telegraph Peak (TP) ). Assuming approximately horizontal bedding, the Buckskin outcrop is approx.15 m stratigraphically above the bottom of the Pahrump Hills member. Mudstone, generally characterized by fine lamination, is the dominant depositional facies . Buckskin Mineralogical and Chemical Composition: The CheMin instrument and XRD pattern analysis procedures have been previously discussed [3-6]. The diffraction pattern used for quantitative XRD analysis (Fig. 1) is the sum of the first 4 of 45 diffraction images. The remaining images are all characterized by both on-ring and off-ring diffraction spots that we attributed to poor grain motion and particle clumping. Coincident with particle clumping was a significant decrease in the intensity of the tridymite diffraction peaks (Fig. 2a). The derived mineralogical composition of the crystalline component (derived from the first 4 diffraction images) is given in Table 1. The tridymite is well-crystalline and its pattern is refined as monoclinic tridymite (Fig 1). Mineral chemical compositions were derived from XRD unit cell parameters or obtained from stoichiometry. The XRD-calculated amorphous component was 50 +/- 15 wt%. We constrained the value to 60 wt% because it is the minimum value necessary to give a positive Al2O3 concentration for the amorphous component using APXS data for the post-sieve dump pile (Table 2). The amorphous component has high SiO2 (approx.77 wt%) and high anion (SO3+P2O5+Cl ~10 wt%) concentrations. Calculation shows that a cation-anion balance is achieved if the cations in the amorphous component except SiO2 and TiO2, which do not readily form salts, are assumed to be present as amorphous mixed-cation sulfates, phosphates, and chlorides (or perchlorates/ chlorates).
Lunar and Planetary Science and Exploration; Geophysics
Lunar and Planetary Science Conference; 21-25 Mar. 2016; The Woodlands, TX; United States