New research about the surface of Mars has offered intriguing new information about the Red Planet’s elusive history. And by studying the current chemical elements on Mars, including carbon and oxygen, scientists continue to piece together the history of a planet that once boasted the conditions necessary to support alien life.
The landmark study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, suggests lava-like formations discovered on Mars are unlikely to have originated from Earth-like volcanic eruptions.
There has to be, or had to be, some sort of aquifer containing liquid water
Professor Petr Brož
The report revealed this is despite the “tens of thousands of volcano-like landforms that populate the northern lowlands and other local sedimentary depocentres on Mars”.
Researchers instead suggest mud under the diurnal Martian environment flows like “terrestrial pahoehoe lava flows, with liquid mud spilling from ruptures in the frozen crust, and then refreezing to form a new flow lobe”.
Pahoehoe lava is basaltic labs forming smooth flows, such as those found at Hawaii’s Kīlauea volcano.
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This information is important as the presence of mud suggests water once existed on Mars.
As a result, the planet at one point likely had a stable environment, an atmosphere, and a magnetic field that would allow liquid water to form.
Professor Petr Brož, a scientist at the Institute of Geophysics of the Czech Academy of Sciences, told CNN: “If these features are indeed results of sedimentary volcanism, this is saying to us that in these areas somewhere in the subsurface has to be a source of mud.
“In other words, there has to be, or had to be, some sort of aquifer containing liquid water to mobilise the fine-grained sediments and take them to the surface of Mars.”
Professor Brož also believes this kind of mud could also exist on other bodies in the solar system.
Promising candidates include the dwarf planet Ceres, due to its mountains and bright deposits in its Occator crater which could be caused by water, rocks, and salt that have reached the surface.
Scientists are consequently increasingly confident there may be water beneath the Ceres’ cold skin.
It is possible the same conditions are true for gas giant Jupiter’s moon Europa, Saturn’s moon Enceladus or Uranus’ moon Triton.
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NASA Perseverance Rover Mars sample mission:
The promising news coincides with the preparations for this summer’s launch of NASA’s Perseverance Rover.
The US space agency’s rover team received on May 11 the tubes tasked with holding the first samples collected at Mars for eventual return to Earth.
The sample tubes will be filled with Martian rock and sediment and deposited on the planet for a future mission to return to Earth to be studied.
They are part of the rover’s Sample Caching System, the most complex and capable mechanism of its kind to be sent into space to address the question of potential life beyond Earth.
The surface operations phase is the time when the Perseverance rover conducts its scientific studies on Mars.
After landing safely on February 18, 2021, the rover has a primary mission span lasting at least one Martian year – 687 Earth days.
While exploring Mars during surface operations, Perseverance has four key objectives:
To find rocks formed or altered by environments that could have supported microbial alien life in Mars’ ancient past.
To discover rocks capable of preserving chemical traces of ancient alien life, known as biosignatures.
To drill core samples from about 30 promising rock and regolith targets and caches them on the Martian surface.
To test the ability to produce oxygen from the carbon-dioxide Martian atmosphere, in support of future human missions to the Red Planet.
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