September 27, 2022

China’s Mars rover uncovers evidence of water at landing site

3 min read

Zhurong landed on May 15, 2021 in a large field called Utopia Planitia in the northern hemisphere of Mars – where NASA’s Viking 2 Lander Touched in 1976.

Rover’s main mission, which lasted three months, was to find traces of ancient life. It has studied the distribution of water and ice in the minerals, atmosphere and field, which is part of the most influential basin in the northern lowlands of Mars. The rover continues to search its landing site and sends information back to the Tianwen-1 orbit orbiting the planet.

Data from a preliminary survey of the basin’s rover shows that water was present in the Utopia Planetia Basin at a time when many scientists believed that Mars was dry and cold.

A study detailing the results published Wednesday in the journal The development of science.

A changing planet

Mars was once hot and wet billions of years ago, but something changed and the planet became a barren, frozen desert that it is today. The Red Planet enters an era called the Amazonian epoch, which began about 3 billion years ago and continues to this day.

China has released new images of Mars taken by its Zhurong rover.

“The most important and new thing is that we found hydrated minerals at the landing site that stood on the young Amazonian lands, and these hydrated minerals are (indicators) for water activities such as (ground water) activities,” the study said. Leading author Yang said. Liu, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ State Laboratory of Space Weather and the Academy’s Center for Excellence in Comparative Planetology.

The researchers analyzed Zhurong Rover’s data on sediment and minerals found in the basin, as well as analysis of several rover devices around it. They found hydrated silica and sulfate, which are similar to hydrated minerals. Through other missions studying different regions of the Red Planet.

Zhurong Rover looks back at its lander, offering a view of the landing site.

Minerals were present in brightly colored rocks, where colors help to reveal their structure. Researchers have determined that these rocks form a layer of dwarf crust at the landing site. This type of layer can form when a large amount of water, either an increase in groundwater or an underground ice melt, basically turns the soil into a hard crust after the water vapor has formed.

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The discovery of this Dewercrust layer, which is thicker than the Dewercrust formed by atmospheric water vapor at other Mars landing sites, suggests that Utopia Planetia had a more active water cycle tens of millions of years ago than scientists expected. ۔

This adds to the growing evidence, discovered by Mars missions, that the red planet went through cycles of wet and hot, and dry and cold, rather than a sustainable, dramatic climate change. Yang said the climate and flow could be the result of the effects of active volcanoes or other celestial bodies.

Fuel search

China became the second country to operate a rover on the surface of Mars.

The discovery came as a surprise to researchers as previous orbital observations did not reveal the signature of the hydrated mineral at the landing site. That’s why research using the rover was key, Yang said.

Utopia Planetia has been of interest to scientists as some speculate that the region once hosted the sea.

“Therefore the discovery of hydrated minerals (is) Important indications for the region’s geological and aquatic history and the evolution of Mars’ climate, Yang said.

Yang said he hopes the rover will be able to analyze the pits in the field to learn more about the region’s water history.

This view shows the lander's lost hat shield in the background of the landing site.

The results also suggest that hydrated minerals or even ground ice may have “substantial reserves” of water, which future human explorers could use during crew missions to Mars.

Water is one of the most important resources for human explorers, Yang said. “Hydrated minerals, which contain structural water, and ground ice can be used as important sources of water on Mars.”

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