The vehicle’s primary mission, which lasted for three months, was to search for signs of ancient life. She examined the minerals, ecology, and water and ice distribution of the plain, which is part of the largest impact basin in the northern lowlands of Mars. The craft continues to explore its landing site and sends the information back to the orbiter, Tianwen-1, which orbits the planet.
Data returned from the rover’s preliminary survey of the basin indicates that the Utopia Planitia Basin contained water at a time when many scientists believed Mars was dry and cold.
Mars was warm and humid billions of years ago, but something changed and made the planet the arid, frozen desert it is today. The Red Planet entered this period during the so-called Amazon epoch, which began about 3 billion years ago and is still going on.
“The most important and new thing is that we found wet minerals at the landing site that stands on the young Amazon terrain, and these wet minerals are (indicators) of aquatic activities such as (groundwater) activities,” said study lead author Yang Yang. Liu, a researcher at the State Key Laboratory of Space Weather of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Academy’s Center for Excellence in Comparative Planetary Science.
The researchers analyzed the Zhurong rover’s data about the sediments and minerals in the basin as well as the analysis conducted by several rover instruments around its surroundings. They find hydrated silica and sulfate, similar to the wet minerals that have been discovered Through other missions studying different regions of the Red Planet.
The minerals were contained within the brightly colored rocks, with the colors helping to display their composition. The researchers determined that these rocks at the landing site formed a layer of hard crust. This type of stratification can form when a large amount of water, either rising groundwater or subsurface thawing, turns soil into a hard crust once the water evaporates.
The discovery of this tough crust layer, which is thicker than the tough crust likely formed by atmospheric water vapor found at other Mars landing sites, indicates that Utopia Planitia had a more active water cycle tens of millions of years ago than scientists expected .
This adds to the mounting evidence discovered by Mars missions that the Red Planet has gone through cycles of wet, warm, dry, and cold, rather than triggering one dramatic climate shift. These climate tides may have been the result of active volcanoes or influences from other celestial bodies, Yang said.
This discovery came as a surprise to the researchers because previous orbital observations did not reveal the signature of wet minerals at the landing site. This is why rover exploration is so important, Yang said.
Utopia Planitia has been of interest to scholars because some speculate that the area once hosted an ocean.
“So the discovery of wet metals (his) Important indicators of the geological and hydrological history of the region and the climatic evolution of Mars.”
Yang said he hopes the rover can analyze crater layers on the plain to find more insights into the region’s water history.
The findings also suggest that there could be “large stores” of water in hydrated minerals or even ground ice, which future human explorers could use during manned missions to Mars.
“One of the most important resources for human explorers is water,” Yang said. “Wet minerals, which contain skeletal water, and ground ice could be used as an important water resource on Mars.”
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