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J Mol Evol. 1979 Dec;14(1-3):133-52.

Smectite clays in Mars soil: evidence for their presence and role in Viking biology experimental results.


Various chemical, physical and geological observations indicate that smectite clays are probably the major components of the Martian soil. Satisfactory ground-based chemical simulation of the Viking biology experimental results was obtained with the smectite clays nontronite and montmorillonite when they contained iron and hydrogen as adsorbed ions. Radioactive gas was released from the medium solution used in the Viking Labeled Release (LR) experiment when interacted with the clays, at rates and quantities similar to those measured by Viking on Mars. Heating of the active clay (mixed with soluble salts) to 160 degrees C in CO2 atmosphere reduced the decomposition activity considerably, again, as was observed on Mars. The decomposition reaction in LR experiment is postulated to be iron-catalyzed formate decomposition on the clay surface. The main features of the Viking Pyrolytic Release (PR) experiment were also simulated recently (Hubbard, 1979) which the iron clays, including a relatively low '1st peak' and significant '2nd peak'. The accumulated observations on various Martian soil properties and the results of simulation experiments, thus indicate that smectite clays are major and active components of the Martian soil. It now appears that many of the results of the Viking biology experiments can be explained on the basis of their surface activity in catalysis and adsorption.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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