The Martian Near Surface Environment: Analysis of Antarctic Soils and Laboratory Experiments on Putative Martian Organics
AuthorArcher, Paul Douglas
AdvisorSmith, Peter H.
Committee ChairSmith, Peter H.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractUnderstanding the physical properties as well as the potential for organic material in the Martian near-surface environment can give us a glimpse into the history of the site with regards to water, soil formation processes, as well as the conditions necessary for life. This work is done to support the interpretation of data from the Phoenix Mars Lander as well as other past and future landed missions. The Antarctic Dry Valleys are a hyper-arid cold polar desert that is the most Mars-like place on Earth. Soils from two different soil and climate regimes are analyzed to determine their physical properties such as mineralogy, particle size, shape, color, and specific surface area. These data are used to describe the sample locations in Antarctica and infer properties of Martian soils by comparison to Antarctic sites. I find that the particle size distribution can be used to determine the water history of the site and that the behavior of soluble species in the soil can also be used to trace the movement of water through the soil and could be instructive in understanding how soil organic material is processed by the environment. Continuing with the theme of soil organic matter, we revisit the Viking conclusions with regards to organics on Mars and look at the Phoenix data on the same subject. First, we assume that Mars receives organic material from meteoritic infall. These organics will be processed by chemical oxidants as well as UV light down to 200 nm. Chemical oxidation is predicted to produce molecules such as mellitic acid, which could preserve up to 10% of the original organic mass. Using mellitic acid and other similar organic molecules, we irradiate these molecules with Mars-like ultraviolet light, analyzing the gases that come off as irradiation takes place. We find that organic molecules can survive Mars-like UV conditions as layers of UV-resistant organics build up, shielding the remaining organic material. Additionally, the gas products of irradiation depend on the composition of the original organic molecule, implying that even irradiated molecules will carry some information about the composition of the original molecule. Finally, we take this irradiated organic/soil stimulant mixture and analyze it via pyrolysis, similar to the Viking GC/MS and TEGA instruments that are the only instruments operated on Mars capable of detecting organics. We find that the pyrolysis of mellitic acid (and other similar) molecules primarily produces inorganic fragments but that the reduced carbon fragments released depend on the composition of the original organic. However, the introduction of perchlorate, discovered on Mars by the Phoenix Lander, complicates the issue by creating the conditions for molecular oxidation. The high-oxygen content and high pyrolysis temperatures lead to organic combustion during thermal analysis, meaning that, regardless of the initial composition, most soil organics will be oxidized to CO₂ during the detection process. By assuming that organic material was oxidized to CO₂ in the Phoenix and Viking samples. We show that this assumption gives organic concentrations consistent with meteoritic accumulation rates. This finding reopens the possibility for organic molecules in the near-surface environment at the Viking and Phoenix landing sites.
Degree ProgramPlanetary Sciences