Images from Mars reveal how water helped shape the Red Planet’s landscape billions of years ago, and provide clues that lead to the search for evidence of ancient life, a study said Thursday. will guide.
In February, NASA’s Persistence rover landed at Jezero Crater, where scientists suspected that a long-gone river once fed a lake, depositing sediment in a fan-shaped delta visible from space .
From space, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and other spacecraft gave us clues about Jezero Crater’s watery past. Now he @NASAPersevere Rover providing close-ups from the ground scientists have encountered some geological surprises: https://t.co/9tXmiFNsDSpic.twitter.com/ern4PqRkV6
— NASA Mars (@NASAMars) October 7, 2021
The study in Science analyzed high-resolution images captured by the persistence of rocks that were once the edge of the delta.
The layers within the rocks explain how it was formed.
NASA astronomer Amy Williams and her team in Florida found similarities between rock features seen from the crater floor and patterns in Earth’s river deltas.
The shape of the bottom three layers showed the presence and steady flow of water, indicating that Mars was “warm and humid enough to support the hydrological cycle” about 3.7 billion years ago, the study said.
The top and most recent layers have scattered boulders over a meter in diameter, possibly moved there by violent floods.
But it is the fine-grained sediment of the base layer that will likely be the target of sampling for signs of long-extinct life – if it existed – on Mars.
The findings will help researchers figure out where to send the rover for soil and rocks, which may contain precious “biosignatures” of putative Martian life forms.
“From the orbital images, we knew there must be water forming the delta,” Williams said in a press release.
“But having these images is like reading a book instead of just looking at the cover.”
Finding out whether life could exist on Mars is the main mission of Perseverance, a project that took decades to develop and cost billions of dollars.
Over the course of several years, the multi-tasking rover will collect 30 rock and soil samples in sealed tubes, which will eventually be sent back to Earth for laboratory analysis in the 2030s.
Last month mission scientists announced that Perseverance had collected two rock samples at Jezero that indicated they were exposed to groundwater for a long time.
Their hope is that the samples may have at one point hosted ancient microbial life, evidence of which may have been trapped by salt minerals.
Williams said that learning that Mars may have once harbored life would be one of the most “profound” discoveries humanity has ever made.
He also expressed surprise at having a window onto an ancient river system on another planet.
“It’s really eye-opening to see something that no one on Earth has ever seen before,” she said.
Persistence landed on February 18, and the study looks at long-distance images taken during its first three months on Mars.
About the size of an SUV, it is equipped with 19 cameras, a two-metre (seven-foot) long robotic arm, two microphones and a suite of state-of-the-art equipment.
One of them is called the SuperCam, a device that laser-zaps away their vapors to study them with an instrument that reveals their chemical composition.
It took seven months for Perseverance to travel from Earth to Mars with its sister craft Ingenuity, a small helicopter whose rotors have to spin five times faster than Earth’s versions to lift them in a less-dense atmosphere. be able to obtain
The plan is for the rover to cross the delta, then the edge of the ancient lake, and finally explore the crater’s edges.
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