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Jarosite and Alunite in Ancient Terrestrial Sedimentary Rocks: Reinterpreting Martian Depositional and Diagenetic Environmental Conditions
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A Spectral Comparison of Jarosites Using Techniques Relevant to the Robotic Exploration of Biosignatures on Mars

1
Research School of Earth Sciences, The Australian National University, Acton, ACT 2601, Australia
2
Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX), Department of Earth Sciences, Western University, London, ON N6A 5B7, Canada
3
Lunar & Planetary Lab, The University of Arizona, AZ 85721, USA
4
Department of Astronomy, Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA 01075, USA
5
Department of Earth and Planetary Science, McGill University, Montreal, QC H3A 0E8, Canada
6
School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, QLD 4072, Australia
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 7 September 2018 / Revised: 30 November 2018 / Accepted: 2 December 2018 / Published: 6 December 2018
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Water–Rock Interactions and Life)
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Abstract

The acidic sulfate-rich waters of the Meridiani Planum region were potentially a habitable environment for iron-oxidizing bacteria on ancient Mars. If life existed in this ancient martian environment, jarosite minerals precipitating in these waters may record evidence of this biological activity. Since the Meridiani jarosite is thermodynamically stable at the martian surface, any biosignatures preserved in the jarosites may be readily available for analysis in the current surface sediments during the ongoing robotic exploration of Mars. However, thermal decomposition experiments indicate that organic compound detection of sediments containing jarosite may be challenging when using pyrolysis experiments; the instrument commonly used to assess organic matter in martian samples. So, here, we assess if the biogenicity of the Meridiani-type jarosites can be determined using complimentary spectroscopic techniques also utilized during the robotic exploration of Mars, including the upcoming ExoMars2020 rover mission. An abiotic jarosite, synthesized following established protocols, and a biological jarosite counterpart, derived from a microbial enrichment culture of Rio Tinto river sediments, were used to compare four spectroscopy techniques employed in the robotic exploration of Mars (Raman spectroscopy, mid-infrared (IR) spectroscopy, visible near-infrared reflectance (VNIR) spectroscopy and Mössbauer spectroscopy) to determine if the complimentary information obtained using these instruments can help elucidate the biological influence of Meridiani-type jarosites. Raman spectral differences might be due to the presence of unreacted reagents in the synthetic spectra and not biological contributions. Reflectance (IR/VNIR) spectra might exhibit minor organic absorption contributions, but are observed in both sample spectra, and do not represent a biosignature. Mössbauer spectra show minor differences in fit parameters that are related to crystal morphology and are unrelated to the biological (i.e., organic) component of the system. Results of this study suggest that the identification of biosignatures in Meridiani-type jarosites using the in situ robotic exploration on Mars may be possible but will be challenging. Our work provides additional insight into extraterrestrial biosignature detection and data interpretation for Mars exploration and indicates that sample return missions are likely required to unequivocally resolve the possible biogenicity of the Meridiani sediments or other jarosite-containing sediments. View Full-Text
Keywords: jarosite; Mars; biosignatures; astrobiology; Rio Tinto; Raman spectroscopy; infrared spectroscopy (IR); visible near-infrared spectroscopy (VNIR); Mössbauer spectroscopy; biomineral jarosite; Mars; biosignatures; astrobiology; Rio Tinto; Raman spectroscopy; infrared spectroscopy (IR); visible near-infrared spectroscopy (VNIR); Mössbauer spectroscopy; biomineral
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
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Loiselle, L.; McCraig, M.A.; Dyar, M.D.; Léveillé, R.; Shieh, S.R.; Southam, G. A Spectral Comparison of Jarosites Using Techniques Relevant to the Robotic Exploration of Biosignatures on Mars. Life 2018, 8, 61.

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