GSA Connects 2021 in Portland, Oregon

Paper No. 239-7
Presentation Time: 3:25 PM


ANDERSON, Robert, Jet Propulsion Laboratory/California Institute of Technology, 4800 Oak Grove Dr., MS 183-601, Pasadena, CA 91109, DOHM, James M., Exploration Institute, 710 N Post Oak Rd, Ste 400, Houston, TX 77024-3812, BUCZKOWSKI, Debra, JHU Applied Physics Laboratory, 11100 Johns Hopkins Rd., MS 200-W230, Laurel, MD 20723-6099 and WYRICK, Danielle, Southwest Research Institute Space Science and Engineering Division, 6220 Culebra Rd, San Antonio, TX 78238-5166

NASA’s main science goal for exploring Mars is to determine if life ever arose on the red planet and to identify environments conducive to the early development and preservation. In search of evidence to address the question of whether life originated and evolved on Mars, we propose a new strategy targeting the extremely ancient terrains (> 4.0 Ga) that contain distinct magnetic anomalies and relatively large tectonic structures, which include Terra Cimmeria, Terra Sirenum, Arabia Terra, Terra Sabaea, among others. These ancient terrains are distinctly older than those that have been visited thus far by landing, roving, and now hovering spacecraft. They extend further back in martian geologic time than the formation of the giant-four impact basins; Hellas, Isidis, Argyre, and Chryse (if an impact basin). For life to have begun and prospered on Mars, like Earth, requires terrains that contain nutrients sourced from diverse rock types, heat energy, water, and mixing of these components from a hydrological cycle. For life to have persisted through major changing planetary environmental conditions, from a planet with an active dynamo/magnetic field and relatively thick atmosphere (i.e., recorded in the extremely ancient terrains but not those explored to date) to the present-day desert-like surface environment and interacting thin atmosphere, it would likely have required exceptional environmental conditions. In this presentation, we will discuss a new strategy which targets extremely ancient terrains, and the rationale for why the terrains may provide the best opportunity to determine if life ever existed on Mars.