Sol 64 [27 November 2016]

On Earth, gypsum (CaSO4.2H2O) is deposited via evaporation of calcium and sulfate-rich water. Gypsum is fragile, mostly translucent and occurs as thick, sedimentary evaporite beds. It is fairly common mineral on Earth and can be found around the salt lakes, hot springs, and veins of sulfate solution. Since it is relatively easily dissolved in the water gypsum is rarely found at the surface except in deserts. In hydrothermal systems, gypsum can be formed when anhydrite (CaSO4) is exposed to the near-surface groundwater. Buick & Dunlop in 1990 recorded ancient evaporitic environment of gypsum as old as Archaean (3.5 billion years old). Fascinating!

Several robotic missions to Mars, such as Omega instrument of ESA’s Mars Express Orbiter detected gypsum deposits on various locations on Mars in 2005 and then in 2013 Curiosity rover discovered the veins of gypsum in the fractured bedrocks in Gale crater, the location known as Yellowknife Bay. These occurrences of gypsum sediments in the crater are suggestive of the presence of the ancient lake in that location when Mars was warmer and wetter, which evaporated and the brine precipitated in the form of gypsum.

Gypsum veins on Mars. (Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU)

Gypsum veins on Mars (Image credit: NASA JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Gypsum on Earth has been identified as home to endolithic communities in multiple extreme environments, it is therefore of great astrobiological interest. Culka and coworkers (2014) detected the carotenoid pigments from halophilic endolithic communities within stratified gypsum crusts using a miniaturized Raman spectrometer. Studies suggest that terrestrial halite/gypsum encrustations in the tidal regions are habitats of ‘endoevaporitic communities’ and these evaporitic environments were habitable even in the Archaean eon. Moreover, the Atacama Desert in Chile is the ideal Martian analog as it is a hyperarid environment and the surface is hostile for any life to be able to survive. However, gypsum crystals in halite crusts host photosynthetic microbial life which might get encapsulated in the evaporite when this region desiccated in the ancient past. For these reasons, gypsum is considered to be a potential target in the search for biosignatures in similar Martian evaporitic environments.

Gypsum deposits in the Utah Desert belong to the Jurassic and Cretaceous sediments that date back 200-100 million years old. We have collected gypsum samples from Summerville Formation and Tidwell member of Morrison Formation of the Jurassic Period. Summerville Formation is characterized by the alternating red-brown color rippled sandstone and shale with mud cracks and white gypsum; milky white, a pattern like a coconut! In 1991, Caputo and Pryor described the Summerville deposition as deposited under “mud rich, restricted, evaporative, hypersaline conditions”. This formation is noted to be a tidal deposit of the Jurassic Epicontinental Sea. Thus, considering the antiquity of these deposits, our work on gypsum astrobiology will be significant to test if any trace of dormant or extinct life encased inside brine inclusions of these crystals.

Gypsum veins on Earth (Summerville Formation, Utah Desert) (Image Credit: Crew Geologist Dr Jon Clarke and The Mars Society)

Further Reading:

Allwood AC, Burch IW, Rouchy JM, Coleman M (2013) Morphological Biosignatures in Gypsum: Diverse Formation Processes of Messinian (∼6.0 Ma) Gypsum Stromatolites. Astrobiology. 9: 870-886.

Buick R, Dunlop J.S.R 1990 Evaporitic sediments of early Archean age from the Warrawoona Group, North-Pole, Western Australia. Sedimentology. 37: 247–277

Culka A, Osterrothová K, Hutchinson I, Ingley R, McHugh M, Oren A, Edwards HG, Jehlička J (2014) Detection of pigments of halophilic endoliths from gypsum: Raman portable instrument and European Space Agency's prototype analysis. Philos Trans A Math Phys Eng Sci. Dec 13: 372

Views: 180


You need to be a member of SAGANet to add comments!

Join SAGANet


  • Add Photos
  • View All

Blog Posts

The 5th Mexican School of Astrobiology

Posted by Tardigrelda on June 24, 2019 at 1:00pm 0 Comments

I am really glad to invite everyone to the next Mexican School of Astrobiology (aka EMA) which is this August.

¡Anímate a participar en la 5ta Escuela Mexicana de…


A consortium of representatives of European Research Organisations has taken the initiative to create a virtual institute named the “European Astrobiology Institute” (EAI) with the ambition of enabli…

Posted by Wolf D. Geppert on February 24, 2019 at 1:33am 0 Comments

A consortium of representatives of European Research Organisations has taken the initiative to create a virtual institute named the “European Astrobiology Institute” (EAI) with the ambition of enabling Europe to emerge as a key player in Astrobiology and to…


AbSciCon session on life in high salt habitats

Posted by Jeff Bowman on December 14, 2018 at 8:12am 0 Comments

Abstract submissions are open for AbSciCon 2019!  You can check out the full selection of sessions here, however, I'd like to draw your attention toward the session Salty Goodness: Understanding life, biosignature…


vemala Network

Posted by Apit Supriatna on October 7, 2018 at 1:07am 0 Comments merupakan situs yang membahas seputar gaya hidup, dengan berbagai macam informasi kesehatan, olahraga, Fitness, review, kecantikan, relationship,Lifestile, Tips kehamilan,Fashion dan lain sebagainya.


  • Add Videos
  • View All


Ask your questions here!

Started by Gina Riggio in SAGANet Discussions. Last reply by Dimitra Atri on Monday. 68 Replies

If you are trying to ask a question live during Ask an Astrobiologist, please do so in the main chatroom at the bottom of the screen! You can also ask on twitter…Continue

Internship in Astrobiology

Started by Eva Zanditenas in Jobs / Post-docs / Other opportunities Oct 9. 0 Replies

Hi, My name is Eva Zanditenas, I am in my final year of biotechnology (in Paris) and I looking for an internship of six months to conclude my studies.   I am passionate about astrobiology, and it is…Continue

Tags: internship

European Astrobilogy Institute now on Twitter !

Started by Wolf D. Geppert in SAGANet Community Sep 24. 0 Replies

ear All,The European Astrobiology Institute is now on Twitter : @EAIastrobiologyIf you are interested: Follow us!If you like a tweet: Like us!If you find a tweet interesting: Retweet!If you want us…Continue

Spiritual connection

Started by MOHIT Kakkar in The Cutting-Edge of Astrobiology Jun 15. 0 Replies

Hi pls answer my spiritual questions.Continue

© 2019   Blue Marble Space, a non-profit organization committed to science and science outreach.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service