NASA‘s Perseverance Mars mission is now examining the Red Planet for traces of past life. The rover had discovered signs of an old river delta on our neighbor, implying that life did once thrive on Mars. Perseverance’s findings have now been supported by research.
The rover landed on Mars in February on the bottom of the 45-kilometer-wide Jezero Crater. The crater was picked by NASA primarily because of prior orbiter assessments that indicated the presence of a big lake and a river delta in this crater many years ago.
Mars had water
The study’s co-author Benjamin Weiss, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in a statement that the rover’s photographs prove that scientists were correct in their assumption that the crater originally had a lake.
The majority of the previous photographs were taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HiRISE camera and revealed the Jezero Crater as well as Perseverance’s landing site, which has been dubbed Octavia E. Butler.
Perseverance on Mars
Perseverance is now on Mars for two reasons: to look for indications of life on the planet and to collect various samples to send back to Earth for future research.
Scientists thought the fan-shaped feature of Jezero was an ancient delta, where a river drained into a lake approximately 3.7 billion years ago, based on previous photographs taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
The deposits of this old lake could contain the remains of ancient Mars bacteria, which could aid in the discovery of life on Mars.
The study, which was published on October 7 in Science, looked through images taken by Perseverance that recorded “Kodiak,” a remote section of the delta. Images revealed sediments that could only have been accumulated if a water body had existed there for a long time.
Last year, three fresh underground lakes were discovered near Mars’ south pole. Scientists also confirmed the existence of a fourth lake, which had been suspected in 2018.
The discovery will be of interest to academics looking into the possibility of life elsewhere in the Solar System because liquid water is essential for biology.
However, the lakes are expected to be exceedingly salty, which could make it difficult for any microbial life forms to survive.
On the Martian surface, water flowed in rivers and gathered in lakes billions of years ago. However, because Mars has lost much of its atmosphere, water can no longer stay liquid on the surface.
Data from the Marsis radar
Researchers used data from the Marsis radar in 2018 to reveal the discovery of a 20-kilometer-wide underground lake 1.5 kilometers underneath Mars’ south polar layered deposits, a thick polar cap produced by layers of ice and dust.
That conclusion, however, was based on 29 observations made by Marsis between 2012 and 2015. Many of the same scientists who worked on the 2018 study have now examined a considerably larger dataset of 134 radar scans collected between 2010 and 2019.
“Not only did we confirm the position, extent, and strength of the reflector from our 2018 study, but we found three new bright areas,” said co-author Elena Pettinelli from Roma Tre University in Italy.
“The main lake is surrounded by smaller bodies of liquid water, but because of the technical characteristics of the radar, and its distance from the Martian surface, we cannot conclusively determine whether they are interconnected.”
“The interpretation that best reconciles all the available evidence is that the high-intensity reflections (from Mars) are coming from extended pools of liquid water,” said co-author Sebastian Lauro, also from Roma Tre University.