Data from China’s Zhurong rover indicates that Mars may have had liquid water on its surface 400,000 years ago.
The researchers used three of the rover’s instruments to sample dunes from Mars’ Utopia Planitia, a low-lying region in the northern hemisphere. In the region’s distinct salt fissures, researchers believe they have found archaeological evidence of water more recently than previously discovered.
“We inferred that these dune surface properties were related to the involvement of liquid brine from subsequent melting of frost/snow falling on the salt-containing dune surfaces,” Chen Xiaoguang (Opens in a new tab)a geophysicist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and first author of the new study, said in A statement (Opens in a new tab). The results are published April 28 in the journal Nature Science advances (Opens in a new tab).
Scientists have been searching for water on Mars since the late 19th century, when some astronomers mistakenly believed they had spotted “channels” crisscrossing the surface of the Red Planet. Since then, data from various probes, rovers, and spectral instruments have revealed that A A small amount of frozen water It is found on Mars at its polar ice caps and inside craters. Researchers believe that the rest of the planet dried up billions of years ago.
But Chen’s team’s findings could upend that notion. They determined that the patterns of ridges and cracks in Utopia Planitia are most likely the result of thawing snow or frost. Furthermore, based on the rate of weathering and craters on Mars, the researchers believe the features formed between 1.4 million and 400,000 years ago. To put that into perspective, the first modern humans (Homo sapiens) is believed to have evolved around 300,000 years ago, which means that our early ancestors such as erect man He may have walked on Earth while water was flowing on Mars.
Zhurong landed on Mars in May 2021 and has traveled nearly 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) since then. The rover has been silent since May 2022 when it entered hibernation mode in order to save energy during the Martian winter. The team believes that a layer of dust has covered the solar panels ever since I prevented him from getting up. This is not an uncommon end for robots on Mars – a A similar fate befell NASA’s InSight spacecraft in December 2022.
Nevertheless, Zhurong continued to send valuable data back to Earth. It could also help in the search for future microbes on Mars, which, based on Zhurong’s findings, will likely need to adapt to ultra-saline environments.
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