With an Earth-like climate and an ocean coursing across its surface, Mars was once a very different place from the dry, cold world it is today.
But water may be more prevalent on Mars than previously thought, based on observations of sand dunes on the planet by the Chinese Mars rover.
This discovery highlights potentially new habitable regions in warmer parts of Mars where conditions may be suitable for life, although more studies are needed.
The new discovery was revealed on Friday this week, in a study published in Science advances.
And it came unexpectedly, because the Zhurong rover went into hibernation before the Martian winter—about a year ago.
The six-wheeled Zhurong was launched in 2020 and landed on Mars in 2021. It spent a year roaming before entering hibernation last May.
The rover ran longer than required, traveling nearly two kilometers.
“It is possible that the solar panels are covered in dust, which chokes off the power supply and possibly prevents the rover from working again,” Zhang Rongqiao, chief designer of the mission, told the news agency. AP.
Snow may have fallen on Mars 400,000 years ago
However, before Zhurong could shut up, she noticed that there were salty sand dunes on the Red Planet.
Scientists say the dunes are mixed with melted snow – it may have fallen as recently as a few hundred thousand years ago.
So there are traces of liquid water in the dunes.
The estimated time range of their formation on Mars is sometime between 1.4 million and 400,000 years ago, or even more recently.
The study, published just before the weekend, says that studying the structure and composition of the dunes can provide insight into the “potential for water activity” during this period.
– We think there might be a small amount… nothing more than a small layer of water on the surface, co-author Xiaoguang Chen of the Department of Geology and Geophysics told the news agency.
Habitable environments can be determined
The rover did not directly detect water in the form of sleet or ice. But Chen said computer simulations and observations from other Martian rovers indicate that even today, at certain times of the year, conditions may be right for water to appear.
The remarkable thing about the study is how young the dunes are, said planetary scientist Frederic Schmidt of the University of Paris-Saclay, who was not part of the study.
According to the study, small pockets of water from melting snow or ice mixed with salt are likely to lead to small cracks, hard crust surfaces, loose particles and other sand dunes.
And they ruled out that the wind was the cause, as well as the frost caused by carbon dioxide, which makes up the bulk of the Martian atmosphere.
No matter how small the water-rich niche, penetration is important because it can be important in determining habitable environments.
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