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Keywords:

  • Mars Exploration rovers;
  • Mars Express OMEGA;
  • Meridiani

[1] The ∼5 km of traverses and observations completed by the Opportunity rover from Endurance crater to the Fruitbasket outcrop show that the Meridiani plains consist of sulfate-rich sedimentary rocks that are largely covered by poorly-sorted basaltic aeolian sands and a lag of granule-sized hematitic concretions. Orbital reflectance spectra obtained by Mars Express OMEGA over this region are dominated by pyroxene, plagioclase feldspar, crystalline hematite (i.e., concretions), and nano-phase iron oxide dust signatures, consistent with Pancam and Mini-TES observations. Mössbauer Spectrometer observations indicate more olivine than observed with the other instruments, consistent with preferential optical obscuration of olivine features in mixtures with pyroxene and dust. Orbital data covering bright plains located several kilometers to the south of the landing site expose a smaller areal abundance of hematite, more dust, and a larger areal extent of outcrop compared to plains proximal to the landing site. Low-albedo, low-thermal-inertia, windswept plains located several hundred kilometers to the south of the landing site are predicted from OMEGA data to have more hematite and fine-grained olivine grains exposed as compared to the landing site. Low calcium pyroxene dominates spectral signatures from the cratered highlands to the south of Opportunity. A regional-scale model is presented for the formation of the plains explored by Opportunity, based on a rising ground water table late in the Noachian Era that trapped and altered local materials and aeolian basaltic sands. Cessation of this aqueous process led to dominance of aeolian processes and formation of the current configuration of the plains.