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Nature. 2000 Mar 2;404(6773):50-2.

Evidence of atmospheric sulphur in the martian regolith from sulphur isotopes in meteorites.

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Department of Chemistry, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla 92093, USA.


Sulphur is abundant at the martian surface, yet its origin and evolution over time remain poorly constrained. This sulphur is likely to have originated in atmospheric chemical reactions, and so should provide records of the evolution of the martian atmosphere, the cycling of sulphur between the atmosphere and crust, and the mobility of sulphur in the martian regolith. Moreover, the atmospheric deposition of oxidized sulphur species could establish chemical potential gradients in the martian near-surface environment, and so provide a potential energy source for chemolithoautotrophic organisms. Here we present measurements of sulphur isotopes in oxidized and reduced phases from the SNC meteorites--the group of related achondrite meteorites believed to have originated on Mars--together with the results of laboratory photolysis studies of two important martian atmospheric sulphur species (SO2 and H2S). The photolysis experiments can account for the observed sulphur-isotope compositions in the SNC meteorites, and so identify a mechanism for producing large abiogenic 34S fractionations in the surface sulphur reservoirs. We conclude that the sulphur data from the SNC meteorites reflects deposition of oxidized sulphur species produced by atmospheric chemical reactions, followed by incorporation, reaction and mobilization of the sulphur within the regolith.

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