Stability of hydroxylated minerals on Mars: A study on the effects of exposure to ultraviolet radiation

Albert S. Yen
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California

Bruce Murray and George R. Rossman
Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125-2500

Frank J. Grunthaner
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California


The density and composition of the Martian atmosphere allow solar ultraviolet photons with wavelengths as short as 190 nm to reach the surface. We investigate the hypothesis that this UV radiation is capable of inducing the release of water from iron oxyhydroxide minerals resulting in the formation of oxide phases. These experiments, which utilize a quadrupole mass spectrometer to monitor the water vapor pressure above mineral samples during cyclic exposure to ultraviolet radiation, offer 5 to 6 orders of magnitude greater sensitivity than previous attempts to establish and quantify this process. We find no evidence that UV photons are capable of liberating OH from the crystal lattice of minerals, and we set a minimum ultraviolet radiation-induced dehydroxylation time of I 108 years for removal of this structural OH from mineral particles at the Martian surface. The overturning timescales for surface fines are likely to be shorter than this lower limit for exposure time. Thus we conclude that UV-stimulated dehydroxylation is not a significant process at the Martian surface and that iron oxyhydroxides, if formed during an earlier water-rich environment, should still be found on Mars today. The lack of clear evidence for iron oxyhydroxides at the Martian surface further suggests that Mars' surface was never warm and wet for a long enough period of time for Earth-like weathering to have occurred.

Journal of Geophysical Research 104, 27,031-27,041