— May 7, 2019
The recent discovery of manganese oxides on Mars suggests more oxygen was present in the Martian atmosphere the originally thought. A pilot project was recently funded by NASA to test the feasibility of discovering biosignatures in manganese deposits on Mars with payload instruments. There are two primary goals for this project; the first is to identify key chemical signatures and second to identify key mineralogical signatures in natural biologic and abiologic manganese materials. The pilot project will focus on three field sites in New Mexico that display features of formation that range from at or near the surface then extend to the deeper subsurface; essentially examining manganese deposits from surface, cave, geothermal springs, finally fossil hydrothermal environments. Should sufficient variation be noted during the pilot project, additional funding to the project will further characterize terrestrial occurrences for comparison to Mars by utilizing rover payload instruments.
Dr. Virgil W. Lueth will be participating from the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources a research and public service division of New Mexico Tech. He has studied the manganese deposits of New Mexico for the last fifteen years determining their mineralogy, age, and duration of the mineralization events that formed them. The project is pursued in conjunction with scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, University of New Mexico, and Towson University.