Map of water trails detected on Mars

Huge map reveals ancient water traces on Mars as we see it: Science Alert

A new map made over the years reveals where we can find ancient water trails on Mars.

Using data collected over the past decade by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, both currently orbiting the Red Planet, scientists have mapped the most comprehensive picture yet of specific Martian deposits. map.

Sediments are hydrous minerals—those that are altered by the presence of water, such as clays.

We know there’s clay on Mars; we’ve even seen some up close or as close as possible via the Curiosity rover. A broader map, however, could give us a more complete picture of Mars’ water history and would help plan future explorations of the now dry and dusty world.

And, unexpectedly, this map shows that wherever we go on Mars, we’ll find something interesting.

A new global map of Mars’ water-bearing minerals. (ESA/Mars Express (OMEGA) and NASA/Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (CRISM))

Before the survey began, there were about a thousand known water-based deposits on Mars. The new work, led by planetary scientist John Carter (well, that’s spooky) at the University of Paris-Saclay and the University of Aix-Marseille in France, has identified more.

The new map shows that there are hundreds of thousands of water-based deposits on at least Mars — especially in some of the oldest places on the surface.

“I think we collectively oversimplified Mars,” Carter said.

“This work has now established that when you study ancient topography in detail, it’s actually strange not to see these minerals.”

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Studying these minerals in greater detail could reveal how much water has historically existed on Mars.

On Earth, for example, clay forms when water and another mineral interact, which creates another mineral.

Vermiculite, smectite and chlorite are formed when water interacts with iron and/or magnesium. Aluminum smectite and kaolin are formed by the interaction of water and aluminum.

But the amount of water also has an effect.

The more water, the greater the change in the final minerals. As a result, scientists can look at different deposits and estimate how much water was present when the minerals formed.

The work of Carter and colleagues revealed the presence of these minerals, as well as sulfates and carbonates, through spectroscopic data. That’s a measurement of light reflected from an object; both orbiters are equipped with spectrometers, and these data complement each other in the mineralogy of the Martian surface.

The resulting map suggests that at some point in its history, not much of Mars was unaltered by water. The planet may be a fairly dry place right now, but evidence suggests it was no stranger to wetness in history.

It also suggests that previous reconstructions of its water history—where the water forms clays, which then form salts as the water dries up—may be a bit too simplistic.

Some salts in the new map appear to be older than some clays, and in some areas, the way the two mix suggests they may be contemporaneous.

Unraveling the implications of these findings will require extensive analysis.

“The evolution from a lot of water to no water is not as clear-cut as we thought, and water doesn’t stop overnight. We see a huge diversity of geological environments, so there is no single process or simple timeline that explains the evolution of water. . The mineralogy of Mars,” Carter explained.

“This is the first result of our study. The second is that if you exclude life processes on Earth, Mars exhibits the same mineralogical diversity as Earth does in its geological environment.”

Another question that remains is whether the water is persistent or sporadic. Does it persist for a long time, or does it disappear and reappear periodically?

Not much can be gleaned from maps of mineral locations alone…however, in another paper, a team led by planetary scientist Lucie Riu, then at JAXA and now at ESA, quantified the hydrous minerals seen in global maps abundance.

“If we know where and what percentage of each mineral is present, it can give us a better understanding of how these minerals are formed,” explained Riu.

Together, these two papers form an important foundation that needs to be established before answering these questions.

And, perhaps, identifying the most interesting locations to send future missions, manned or unmanned, to understand how Mars became a dry world — which, in turn, may not yield some answers about how Earth might be.

Two papers published in Icarus. They can be found here and here.

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