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NASA rover decodes water past on Mars

NASA rover decodes water past on Mars

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NASA’s Perseverance spacecraft is exploring Mars, enabling researchers to take a long look into the Red Planet’s past.

SAN FRANCISCO – NASA’s Perseverance rover has been on the Red Planet for more than 1,000 Martian days. During this time, the rover spent a long time studying an ancient river delta in the so-called Jezero Crater. Because the Mars rover can precisely analyze the rocks around it, the research team behind Perseverance can now understand the water history of Jezero Crater relatively well, as NASA did at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco showed.

“We chose Jezero Crater as the landing site because orbital images show a delta — clear evidence that the crater was once filled by a large lake,” explains Ken Farley, Perseverance project scientist, in a statement. NASA announcement. The lake is a habitable environment, and stones from the delta are ideal for “anchoring signs of ancient life in the form of fossils in the geological record,” Farley says.

Artist’s impression: This is what Jezero Crater, where NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars, looked like: a well filled with water. © NASA/JPL

Mars exploration: NASA searches for ancient microbial life

The researcher confirms: “After extensive research, we compiled the geological history of the crater and recorded the stage of the lake and river from beginning to end.” According to the information, the crater on Mars was formed as a result of an asteroid collision about four billion years ago. since. After Perseverance landed in February 2021, the research team quickly discovered that the crater’s floor was made of igneous rocks formed from magma underground or through volcanic activity on the surface.

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Hundreds of millions of years after its formation, the first river appeared in the crater – evidenced by the sandstone and mudstone found by Perseverance. Above them are salty mudstones indicating a shallow lake formed as a result of evaporation. According to researchers, this lake was said to be 35 kilometers in diameter and 30 meters deep. Later Fast flowing water carried rocks from outside the crater into Jezero Crater I distributed them there.

NASA explores Mars: “We had to look at the hole closely”

“We were able to see these chapters in Jezero’s history in broad strokes from orbital images, but we needed to take a closer look at the crater using Perseverance to understand the timeline in detail,” explains Libby Ives of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). ) of NASA, which leads the “Perseverance” mission.

So far, NASA’s rover has taken rock samples from 23 different locations in Jezero Crater and stored them on Mars for possible retrieval later. For example, one sample contained phosphate – which is often associated with life as we know it on Earth. Another sample contains many fine silica grains, and this material is known to preserve ancient fossils on Earth.

The environment on Mars could preserve remains of ancient life

“On Earth, this fine-grained silica is often found in places that were previously sandy,” says Morgan Keeble of JPL. “This is the type of environment in which remains of ancient life on Earth can be preserved and later found.” The research team is using the Perseverance rover to search for evidence of ancient microbial life on Mars. The mission also describes the geology of the Red Planet and aims to learn more about its past climate.

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But the future is also up for consideration, as the rover has two groundbreaking technology demonstrations on board. The “Ingenuity” helicopter, which demonstrated the possibility of flying rotary aircraft on Mars, and the “Moxy” experiment, which has now been stopped, but previously demonstrated the possibility of obtaining oxygen on Mars.

Mars mission
The US rover Perseverance (right) next to the Ingenuity mini-helicopter on Mars. © NASA/JPL

More Mars exploration: ‘Perfect conditions’

Keppel is optimistic about further exploration of Mars: “We have ideal conditions for finding signs of ancient life, because we find carbonates and phosphates, which indicate a habitable aquatic environment, as well as silica, which is excellent for preservation.” (unpaid bill)