Today’s Video of the Day from the European Space Agency describes a new map of Mars that is providing insight into the planet’s watery past. The map also reveals where future missions could safely land on Mars.
The map has been created over the last decade using observations of water-rich rocks and mineral deposits. The images were captured by ESA’s Mars Express and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
“A big surprise is the prevalence of these minerals, with the map revealing hundreds of thousands of water-affected locations in the oldest parts of the planet,” says ESA. “The new data will help answer exciting questions about Mars’ climate history, whether water was globally persistent or confined to short, intense episodes, and whether the conditions were ever suitable for life.”
“Specifically, the map shows the locations and abundances of aqueous minerals. These are from rocks that have been chemically altered by the action of water in the past, and have typically been transformed into clays and salts.”
According to John Carter of the Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale (IAS), our collective understanding of Mars has been oversimplified. He explained that planetary scientists have tended to think that only a few types of clay minerals on Mars were created during its wet period, then as the water gradually dried up, salts were produced across the planet.
The new map shows that the composition of Mars is much more complicated than what we thought. For example, while many salts formed after Martian clays, there are some salts that are presumed to be older than some of the clays.
“The evolution from lots of water to no water is not as clear cut as we thought, the water didn’t just stop overnight. We see a huge diversity of geological contexts, so that no one process or simple timeline can explain the evolution of the mineralogy of Mars. That’s the first result of our study. The second is that if you exclude life processes on Earth, Mars exhibits a diversity of mineralogy in geological settings just as Earth does,” said Carter.
Video Credit: ESA