Chinese rover finds evidence that water was present on Mars more recently than expected

The Zhurong rover looks at the lander. A view of the landing area, wheel tracks and a small sand dune. Credit: China National Space Administration (CNSA)

A team of researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, together with a colleague from the University of Copenhagen, have found evidence that water has been present on Mars more recently than previously thought. In their article published in the journal Scientists progressthe group describes their analysis of data from China’s Zhurong rover and what it showed them about ice in hydrated minerals.

Previous research has suggested that parts of the Martian surface were covered in water until around 3 billion years ago. The time since the water on Mars dried up is known as the Amazon period. In the new effort, data from China’s Zhurong rover has shown researchers evidence that water on Mars may have persisted longer than previously thought.

Rover Zhurong has been traveling through an impact crater on the surface of Mars for about a year. During this time, he used his two spectrometers to analyze the rocks. He also takes pictures of the rocks using his micro-imaging camera. The rover also blasts them with a laser to create smoke that can be analyzed. The researchers compared the signatures they found in rocks on Mars with rocks on Earth, finding that some of the rocks are hydrated minerals, which are minerals that contain water. They also found examples of duricrust layers, which they note would have required a large amount of water rising either from below the surface or a large amount of melting ice to form.

Chinese rover finds evidence of water on Mars more recently than thought

A look at the landing zone and heat shield. Credit: China National Space Administration (CNSA)

The researchers suggest that water must have persisted on Mars longer than previously thought to explain the hydrated minerals on its surface, possibly much longer. They also suggest that the existence of such rocks on the surface suggests the possibility of ground ice. If so, future astronauts could use it for a wide variety of purposes.

The findings support evidence from other research efforts that have suggested that Mars not only had water on its surface in more recent times, but was also flowing, creating sculpted rock features.

Data from Zhurong Mars rover shows evidence of wind, and possibly water erosion

More information:
Yang Liu et al, Zhurong reveals recent aqueous activities in Utopia Planitia, Mars, Scientists progress (2022). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abn8555

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