“We found that a central part of Valles Marineris was full of water – in much larger quantities than we expected.” So says the co-author of a study on the discovery of subterranean wetlands in the giant canyon system on the Red Planet, also known as the “Grand Canyon of Mars.” While on the planet, the Persevering Mars explorer discovered that samples from the bottom of the Jezero Crater, once a lake, consisted of volcanic rather than sedimentary rocks.
CNN, Deputy, New Atlas, BBC
Mars has its own Grand Canyon, a sprawling 4,000-kilometre canyon – the largest in our solar system – called “Valles Marineris” or “Valleys of Mariner” after the US Mariner 9 spacecraft, which made the 1971 discovery. That Grand Canyon Gas Orbiter Probe, a space probe of the European-Russian ExoMars project, has now detected water. The ExoMars mission, launched in 2016 by the European Space Agency (ESA) and its Russian counterpart Roskosmos, aims to find out if there is life on Mars, and to do so orbit the red planet at an altitude of 400 km above its surface.
It was already known that water was found on Mars, mostly in the form of ice. But such a huge expanse of groundwater – “as big as Holland” – in the central part of the Martian Grand Canyon, is a surprise. It was the FREND Gas Tracking Vehicle’s neutron telescope, which can detect hydrogen in the upper meters from the bottom, that spotted the water. ExoMars Orbiter itself tweeted that “ice or minerals rich in water.”
“They are very similar to permafrost regions on Earth, where water ice is permanently trapped under dry land due to persistent low temperatures,” Alexei Malakhov of the Russian Space Research Institute explains. But in that region of Mars, water ice usually evaporates due to pressure and temperature near the equator. Therefore, scientists suspect that there is a special set of conditions in the “Valles Marineris”, such that the water does not evaporate there. More research is needed to determine exactly what the water looks like.
Valles Marineris is the largest valley in our solar system, ten times longer and five times deeper than the Grand Canyon in the United States, often compared to the magnificent valley on Mars. The new discovery will undoubtedly make this place a magnet for future survey missions.
Also on the Red Planet, Perseverance made a surprising discovery, more specifically in the Jezero crater, where the Mars explorer landed ten months ago. Some of the bedrock that the rover has been bouncing on all this time may not have been sedimentary but volcanic. This indicates that lava was flowing into the crater, which was a lake.
According to scientists, this is “completely unexpected”, because the persistence images of stratified rocks looked like sedimentary so far. Previous samples seem to have come into contact with water multiple times and some of them also contain organic molecules. For years, scientists have wondered whether the rocks at Jezero Crater were sedimentary rocks, made up of layers of material deposited by an ancient river, or igneous rocks, which form when cold lava flows. Monsters discovered by Perseverance will be brought to Earth through other missions for further research, including determining their age.
This discovery could help scientists build an accurate timeline of what happened at Jezero crater and further contribute to a better understanding of the entire planet Mars.
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