Ancient Riverbeds on Mars and the Potential for Life

NASA Curiosity Mars Rover Mont Mercou Selfie

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used two cameras to create this selfie in entrance of Mont Mercou, a rock outcrop that stands 20 toes (6 meters) tall. New evaluation by Penn State researchers reveals that a lot of the craters on Mars at the moment might have as soon as been liveable rivers. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity rover findings point out quite a few craters on Mars might have as soon as been flowing rivers, hinting at attainable historic life situations.

New evaluation of knowledge from the Curiosity rover reveals that a lot of the craters on Mars at the moment might have as soon as been liveable rivers.

“We’re discovering proof that Mars was possible a planet of rivers,” mentioned Benjamin Cardenas, assistant professor of geosciences at Penn State and lead writer on a brand new paper asserting the invention. “We see indicators of this all around the planet.”

Erosion Simulation and Findings

In a examine printed in Geophysical Analysis Letters, the researchers used numerical fashions to simulate erosion on Mars over millennia and located that frequent crater formations — known as bench-and-nose landforms — are almost certainly remnants of historic riverbeds.

The examine was the primary to map the erosion of historic Martian soil by coaching a pc mannequin on a mixture of satellite tv for pc knowledge, Curiosity pictures, and 3D scans of the stratigraphy — or layers of rock, known as strata, deposited over hundreds of thousands of years — beneath the Gulf of Mexico seafloor. The evaluation revealed a brand new interpretation for frequent Martian crater formations which, till now, have by no means been related to eroded river deposits.

Mars Mont Mercou Outcrop Morphology

Bench-and-slope morphology pictured on Mars and nostril morphology from the bottom at Mars’ Mont Mercou outcrop. Credit score: NASA/Caltech-JPL/MSSS

“We’ve every little thing to study Mars by higher understanding how these river deposits might be interpreted stratigraphically, fascinated by rocks at the moment as layers of sediment deposited over time,” Cardenas mentioned. “This evaluation just isn’t snapshot, however a report of change. What we see on Mars at the moment is the remnants of an energetic geologic historical past, not some panorama frozen in time.”

Contrasting Previous Research

Prior research of satellite tv for pc knowledge from Mars had recognized erosional landforms known as fluvial ridges as being attainable candidates for historic river deposits. Utilizing knowledge collected by the Curiosity rover at Gale crater, the workforce discovered indicators of river deposits that aren’t related to fluvial ridges, however quite bench-and-nose landforms which have by no means been linked to historic river deposits.

“This implies that there could possibly be undiscovered river deposits elsewhere on the planet, and that a good bigger part of the Martian sedimentary report might have been constructed by rivers throughout a liveable interval of Mars’ historical past,” Cardenas mentioned. “On Earth, river corridors are so vital for all times, chemical cycles, nutrient cycles, and sediment cycles. Every thing is pointing to those rivers behaving equally on Mars.”

Mannequin Design and Earth Comparisons

In designing their laptop mannequin, Cardenas and his workforce discovered a brand new use for 25-year-old scans of Earth’s stratigraphy. Collected by oil corporations, the scans of beneath the Gulf of Mexico seafloor supplied an excellent comparability to Mars, Cardenas defined.

The workforce simulated Mars-like erosion utilizing the 3D scans of precise, recorded stratigraphy on Earth. Once they ran the simulation, the mannequin revealed erosional Martian landscapes that shaped topographic benches and noses, quite than fluvial ridges, showing nearly equivalent to landforms noticed by the Curiosity rover contained in the Gale crater.

“Our analysis signifies that Mars might have had way more rivers than beforehand believed, which definitely paints a extra optimistic view of historic life on Mars,” Cardenas mentioned. “It gives a imaginative and prescient of Mars the place a lot of the planet as soon as had the suitable situations for all times.”

Reference: “Landforms Related With the Facet-Managed Exhumation of Crater-Filling Alluvial Strata on Mars” by Benjamin T. Cardenas and Kaitlyn Stacey, 8 August 2023, Geophysical Analysis Letters.
DOI: 10.1029/2023GL103618

The opposite co-author on the paper is Kaitlyn Stacey, a doctoral candidate in planetary geosciences at Penn State. A NASA Photo voltaic System Workings Grant funded this work.

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