A new map of mineral deposits on Mars could not only change our understanding of the Red Planet’s past water distribution, but also help create a roadmap for future Mars exploration, including crewed missions. .
The new map has revealed an unexpected abundance of minerals created by the interaction of rock and water, with hundreds of thousands of once water-rich areas discovered in some of March‘ the oldest regions.
The map could lead to a more detailed investigation of Martian geology that could reveal what happened when Mars rose from a planet quite like Earth to the dry, arid world we see today, and if the planet was ever able to support life.
“I think we’ve collectively oversimplified Mars,” said John Carter, an assistant professor of planetary sciences at the Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale at the University of Paris-Saclay, who was part of the team behind Mars. the map. statement. (opens in a new tab) “The evolution from lots of water to no water isn’t as clear as we thought, the water didn’t stop overnight.”
Related: Mars has always been too small to cling to its oceans, rivers and lakes
Carter also explained that the more complex geology of Mars may be more similar to that of our planet than previously thought.
“We see a great diversity of geological settings, so no single process or timeline can explain the evolution of Mars’ mineralogy,” the researcher continued. “If you exclude life processes on Earth, Mars exhibits a diversity of mineralogy in geological contexts, just like Earth.”
The map was created from more than a decade of data collected by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) OMEGA (Mars Express Observatory for Mineralogy, Water, Ice and Activity) instrument on the Mars-Express spacecraft, and the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instrument on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Of particular interest on the map are the traces of water-rich minerals and rocks that were transformed into clays and salts by interactions with water in the Red Planet’s distant past.
Revealing Mars’ Complex Geological Past
Different water-rich clays and minerals are created when water interacts with rocks under various conditions.
When small amounts of water interact with volcanic rock, clay minerals such as smectite and vermiculite are formed. These retain many of the same chemical elements – particularly iron and magnesium – as the volcanic rocks that gave rise to them.
However, when large amounts of water interact with the rocks, the clays that form are less like the progenitor rocks because the soluble elements are washed away. This leaves aluminum-rich clays like kaolin in their wake.
Until a decade ago, researchers knew of only about 1,000 of these clay-rich outcrops on Mars. This meant that watery clays were considered geological oddities and suggested that there were limits to how much water there was on Mars in the past and how long it could be kept.
The new map shows that, surprisingly, these minerals are more prevalent than scientists thought, indicating that water played a much larger role in shaping Mars’ geology.
“This work has now established that when you study ancient terrains in detail, not seeing these minerals is actually an oddity,” Carter added.
Not only do these results suggest that water was predominant and important in the formation of Mars, but that the formation of clays and salts on the Red Planet is more complicated than previously thought.
In the past, scientists believed that only a few types of clay formed when Mars was in its wet period – estimated to be 4 billion years old – and when the water dried up, the planet transitioned to the dry world and arid we see today, and the salts have been left behind.
The newly created map shows that while salts formed after clays in many regions, in some places on the Martian surface there is a mixture of salts and clays, and there are also salts that predate the production of clays. ‘clay.
Planning future Mars missions
The team behind the Mars Mineral Map didn’t stop at basic mineral detection. They also quantified the concentrations of these aqueous minerals present in various locations.
Because these minerals still contain water molecules, they could be used by future crewed missions to extract water for astronauts and for fuel production, easing the load that future space missions must carry to the red planet as well as the cost of these missions. .
Clays and salts could even be used as building materials to establish bases and other facilities on the Martian surface.
Even before crewed missions head to Mars, areas rich in aqueous minerals could prove excellent locations for robotic Mars missions to conduct geological research.
As an example, the Oxia Planum – a clay-rich site discovered when this map was created – has been suggested as a potential landing site for ESA. Rover Rosalind Franklin.
“If we know where and in what percentage each mineral is present, it gives us a better idea of how these minerals could have formed,” said Lucie Riu, researcher at ESA and co-author of the study. , in the press release. . “That’s what interests me, and I think this kind of mapping work will help open up these studies in the future.”
Of them papers (opens in a new tab) detailing the creation of this new map of Mars are published in the journal Icarus. (opens in a new tab)
Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.
#water #map #Mars #reveals #Red #Planets #history