On February 18, 2021, the Perseverance rover landed at Jezero crater on Mars.
Since then, the Perseverance has been exploring the area for evidence of past (and possibly present) life — just like its cousin, the Curiosity rover.
This includes obtaining samples that will be cached and retrieved by a future ESA/NASA sample return mission.
These will be the first samples retrieved directly from the rocks and soil of Mars that will be analyzed in a laboratory on Earth, which is expected to reveal some puzzling pieces about the history of the Red Planet.
But it looks like we don’t need to wait for the sample return mission because the Perseverance probe is already sending some surprising data back to Earth.
According to a new study by a research team led by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Oslo, the Earth-penetrating persistence radar has detected that the layers of rock beneath the crater are oddly tilted.
These strange fragments may be the result of lava flows that have cooled slowly or they could be sedimentary deposits from an underground lake.
The research team was led by Sven Erik Hamran, Professor of Autonomous Systems and Sensor Technologies at the University of Oslo (UiO) and Principal Investigator of the Mars Imaging Radar (RIMFAX) aboard the Persevering Rover.
He was joined by researchers from UiO, UCLA, the Planetary Science Institute (PSI), Vestfonna Geophysical, Centro de Astrobiología, the Norwegian Polar Institute, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and several universities. The paper describing their findings recently appeared in the journal science progress.
Located in Syrtis Major Planum between the northern lowlands and southern highlands, the Jezero Crater is about 45 km (28 mi) in diameter and is believed to have once been a lake.
This area was specifically chosen as the landing site for the Perseverance, which was exploring the large deposits of rock and clay minerals deposited on the western edge, where water once flowed into the crater.
Like Curiosity, the goal is to learn more about the periods when Mars had water flowing on its surface so that scientists can get a better idea of how (and when) it moved to the cold, dry planet it is today.
As they note in their study, the team consulted the first data obtained by the Radar Imager for Mars underurFA eXperiment (RIMFAX), which performed the first ground-penetrating radar survey installed on the Mars subsurface rover.
This survey was conducted when the rover made its initial 3 km (~1.85 mi) altitude through Jezero crater and provided continuous data on the electromagnetic properties of the rock structure below the crater to depths of 15 meters (~49 ft) below the surface. Surface appearance.
The resulting radar images showed layered sequences going down at angles of up to 15 degrees.
David Paige, professor of Earth, planetary and space sciences at the University of California and one of the principal investigators at RIMFAX, explained in a recent issue of ULCA Newsroom:
“We were quite surprised to find rocks stacked at an angle. We were expecting to see horizontal rocks on the crater floor. The fact that it is tilted like this requires a more complex geological history.
It could have formed when molten rock rose towards the surface, or, alternatively, it could represent ancient deltaic sediments buried in the crater floor.”
RIMFAX paints a picture of Mars’ subsurface geology by sending bursts of radar waves to the surface, which are reflected by layers of rock and other underground features. This allows scientists to determine the shapes, density, thickness, angles and composition of underground objects based on how the radar waves are returned to the instrument.
After analyzing the data, the research team noticed that layered rocks were common throughout the area surveyed by perseverance. Even more confusingly, they also found that the tilted regions have highly reflective rock layers that tilt in multiple directions.
The most likely explanation for the angular layers they witnessed points to an igneous (molten) origin, where underground movement of magma deposited rock layers over time that cooled and solidified.
However, there is also the possibility that the strata are sedimentary, which is a common phenomenon in aquatic environments on Earth.
In this case, the features are caused by a material that precipitates water over time, which hardens and becomes layered. As Page said, this brought to mind another familiar feature of Earth:
“RIMFAX gives us a view of the layers of Mars similar to what you can see on Earth at highway cuts, where sometimes long piles of rock layers appear in the mountainside as you drive.
Prior to landing Perseverance, there were many hypotheses about the exact nature and origin of the crater floor materials. We’ve now been able to narrow down the possibilities, but the data we’ve got so far suggests that the history of the crater floor may be more complex than we expected.”
The data collected by RIMFAX will be of great value when the samples collected by Perseverance are returned to Earth for analysis. Knowing what lies beneath Jezero crater and how it formed will provide the necessary context for the characterization of the samples.
This will provide a clearer picture of how and when water flows on Mars, for how long, and whether or not this is intermittent. It will also show how and when Mars transitioned to the extremely cold and dry environment we see there today.
But most importantly, this data could reveal whether Mars is capable of supporting life on its surface, which would finally answer a question that humans have been asking for centuries!
This article was originally published by Universe Today. Read the original article.