Scientists studying data from China’s Zhurong have, for the first time, highlighted potentially fertile areas in the warmer regions of Mars. This discovery is exciting and intriguing for scientists studying the features and characteristics of the ‘red’ planet.
Cause Of Cracks
Wind and frost made of carbon dioxide, which forms the bulk of Mars’ atmosphere, have been ruled out as the cause. It is assumed that small pockets of water from thawing frost or snow may be the culprit. These, mixing with salt, likely resulted in small cracks, hard crusty surfaces, loose particles, and other features that were seen.
Frederich Schmidt, a planetary scientist at the University of Paris-Saclay, commented on how young the dunes are. Schmidt described the discovery as “a new piece of science for this region”
Zhurong has ultimately provided evidence of a wider distribution of climatic activities on the planet than was “previously identified”. Martian frost has been under observation since NASA’s 1970s Vikings Mission. Until now, the process of light dustings of morning frost was thought to occur in certain locations under specific conditions.
Is Mars Habitable?
Scientists have long suspected that early Mars contained a large amount of water. They, however, concluded that unpredictable climate changes had frozen the body of water. The planet is mostly described by its extreme dryness and parched look.
Before Zhurong went to sleep, it observed the surface composition of four dunes in the Utopia Planitia region of Mars. These crescent-shaped salt-rich dunes were coated in thin, widespread crust and cracks. Researchers explained that these features were likely connected to melting morning frost; small packets of “modern water,” they called them. They estimated these features to have formed about 1.4 million to 400, 000 years ago or even younger.
This discovery has pushed the research on Mars to a progressive level. However, scientists have yet to conclude if this new development means Mars can safely support human activities.
Future Of Mars Exploration
In a study now published in Science Advances, a Beijing-based Chinese team spoke on the subject. They ascertained that studying the structure and chemical makeup of the dunes can provide insights into the “possibility of water activity” on the planet.
According to Mary Bourke, an expert in Mars geology, this discovery by Zhurong could be important for identifying habitable environments.
Zhurong was launched in 2020 and named after a fire god in Chinese mythology. The six-wheeled rover arrived on Mars in 2021. It spent a year roaming around before going into hibernation last year.
As we continue to explore the universe, each new discovery brings us closer to understanding our place in the cosmos. The discovery of water on Mars is just one step in this journey, but it is a significant one that will shape the future of space exploration for years to come.