Silt-clay aggregates on Mars


  • Ronald Greeley


Viking observations suggest abundant silt and clay particles on Mars. It is proposed that some of these particles agglomerate to form sand size aggregates that are redeposited as sandlike features such as drifts and dunes. Although the binding for the aggregates could include salt cementation or other mechanisms, electrostatic bonding is considered to be a primary force holding the aggregates together. Various laboratory experiments conducted since the 19th century, and as reported here for simulated Martian conditions, show that both the magnitude and sign of electrical charges on windblown particles are functions of particle velocity, shape and composition, atmospheric pressure, atmospheric composition, and other factors. Electrical charges have been measured for saltating particles in the wind tunnel and in the field, on the surfaces of sand dunes, and within dust clouds on earth. Similar, and perhaps even greater, charges are proposed to occur on Mars, which could form aggregates of silt and clay size particles. Electrification is proposed to occur within Martian dust clouds, generating siltclay aggregates which would settle to the surface where they may be deposited in the form of sandlike structures. By analog, siltclay dunes are known in many parts of the earth where siltclay aggregates were transported by saltation and deposited as ‘sand.’ In these structures the binding forces were later destroyed, and the particles reassumed the physical properties of silt and clay, but the sandlike bedding structure within the ‘dunes’ was preserved. The bedding observed in drifts at the Viking landing site is suggested to result from a similar process involving siltclay aggregates on Mars.