Images from NASA’s Perseverance may show a record-breaking Martian wilderness


Images from NASA's Perseverance may show a record-breaking Martian wilderness

Scientists think these bundles of rock may have been formed by a very fast, deep river – the first evidence of its kind ever found on Mars. NASA’s Mars rover captured this scene at a site dubbed “Skrinkle Haven” using the Mastcam-Z camera between February 28 and March 9, 2023. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

New images taken by NASA’s Perseverance rover may show signs of what was once a meandering river on Mars, deeper and faster moving than scientists have seen evidence of in the past. The river was part of a network of waterways that flowed into Jezero Crater, an area the rover has been exploring since it touched down more than two years ago.

Understanding these aquatic environments can aid scientists in their efforts to search for signs of ancient microbial life that may be preserved in Martian rocks.

Perseverance explores the top of an 820-foot (250-meter) fan-shaped pile of sedimentary rock that features curved layers that suggest flowing water. One of the questions scientists want to answer is whether that water flows in relatively shallow streams — akin to what the Curiosity spacecraft found evidence of at Gale Crater — or a more robust river system.

Pieced together from hundreds of images captured by Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z instrument, two new mosaics point to the latter, revealing important clues: coarse sediment grains and pebbles.

said Libby Ives, a postdoctoral researcher at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, who operates the Perseverance rover. With a background in studying rivers found on Earth, Ives has spent the past six months analyzing images of the Red Planet’s surface. “It was a joy to look at rocks on another planet and see very familiar processes,” Ives said.

Follow the curves

Years ago, scientists noticed a series of curved bands of stratified rock within Jezero Crater that they called the “curved unit.” They were able to see these layers from space but were finally able to see them up close, thanks to Perseverance.

One location within the curved module, dubbed “Skrinkle Haven,” was captured in one of the new Mastcam-Z mosaics. Scientists are sure the curved layers here were formed by powerfully flowing water, but Mastcam-Z’s detailed footage left them debating which kind: a river like the Mississippi, in which the wind snakes across the landscape, or a braided river like the Nebraska Platte, which It forms small islands of sediment called sandbars.

Viewed from the ground, the curved layers appear arranged in rows extending across the landscape. It could be the remains of river banks that have changed over time – or the remains of sand barriers that formed in the river. Layers were likely much longer in the past. Scientists believe that after these mounds of sediment were transformed into rock, they were blown away by winds over eons and sculpted to their current size.

“The wind acted like a scalpel that cut off the tops of these sediments,” said Michael Lamb of Caltech, a river specialist and collaborator on the Persistence Science team. “We see deposits like this on Earth, but they’re not as well exposed as they are here on Mars. The Earth is covered in vegetation that hides these layers.”

A second mosaic captured by Perseverance shows a detached site that is part of the curved unit and about a quarter mile (450 m) from Skrinkle Haven. “Pinestand” is an isolated hill loader sedimentary layers These curve towards the sky, some of them reaching 66 feet (20 m) in height. Scientists believe that these long layers may also have been formed by a powerful river, although they are exploring other explanations as well.

“these Layers Its height, Ives said, is abnormal for rivers on Earth. But at the same time, the most popular way to create these types of terrain is the river.

The team continues to study Mastcam-Z images for additional clues. They’re also peering below the surface, using the ground-penetrating radar instrument on the Perseverance called RIMFAX (short for Radar Imager for Mars’ Underurface Experiment). What they learn from both instruments will expand knowledge about Mars’ ancient watery past.

“What’s exciting here is that we’ve entered a new phase in Jezero’s history. This is the first time we’ve seen environments like this on Mars,” said Katie Stack Morgan, Perseverance deputy project scientist at JPL. “We think about rivers on a different scale than we’ve had before.”

the quote: Images from NASA Perseverance May Show Record of Wild Martian River (2023, May 11) Retrieved May 13, 2023 from

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