Crust stratigraphy and heterogeneities of the first kilometers at the dichotomy boundary in western Elysium Planitia and implications for InSight lander

Research areas:
Mars, Cratering, Geological processes, Mineralogy, Spectroscopy
  • Lu Pan
  • Cathy Quantin-Nataf
  • Benoit Tauzin
  • Chloé Michaut
  • Matt Golombek
  • Phillipe Lognonné
  • Peter Grindrod
  • Benoit Langlais
  • Tamara Gudkova
  • Inna Stepanova
  • Sébastien Rodriguez
  • Antoine Lucas
InSight landed on Mars on November 26, 2018, in western Elysium Planitia. The Mars crust beneath the lander is subject to complex geologic history next to the great topographic and crustal dichotomy of Mars. Understanding this part of the Martian crust in the subsurface would aid future investigations of the internal structure of the planet based on seismic datasets collected by the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument. Here, we investigate the subsurface structure and composition from the analysis of mineralogy and morphology of exposures in impact craters as well as on scarps and knobs in the general region of Elysium Planitia. Using a combination of orbital datasets, we identify exposures of subsurface materials with distinct composition and physical properties. We find olivine and pyroxene detections associated with small impact craters (1.5–7 km) rim in the vicinity of InSight lander, as well as in the transition unit and Elysium volcanic unit. Fe/Mg phyllosilicates have been identified in the central peak of the 51-km diameter Kalpin crater and on knobs in the transition unit between the dichotomy and the plains. In addition, eroded meter-scale layered unit subject to erosion has been identified in six impact craters to the north-east of the landing site, including Kalpin crater. Massive bedrock and layered, weak materials co-occur in the transition unit, indicating a complex origin. These results together suggest both materials with altered composition and layered deposit occur as distinct geologic units beneath the basaltic lava flow units. Through analogy with terrestrial sedimentary rocks or clay-bearing sediments, we suggest physically weak materials exist beneath the lava flow units in the general region of Elysium Planitia. The spatial distribution and continuity of these materials are unclear due to the lack of exposures within the lava flow unit where the InSight lander is located. These subsurface materials of distinct physical properties may result in increased attenuation or reverberations of seismic waves, to be collected by SEIS. The findings suggest a close investigation of the potential effects of subsurface stratigraphy on seismic data would help inform future data interpretation and understanding of the internal structure of Mars.