These Rocks Formed in an Ancient Lake on Mars

NASA’s Curiosity rover continues to search for signs that Mars’ Gale Crater conditions could support microbial life. Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.
NASA’s Curiosity rover continues to search for signs that Mars’ Gale Crater conditions could support microbial life. Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

We already know that water has existed on the surface of Mars but for how long? Curiosity has been searching for evidence for the long term presence of water on Mars and now, a team of researchers think they have found it. The rover has been exploring the Gale Crater and found it contains high concentrations of Manganese. The mineral doesn’t form easily on Mars so the team think it may have formed as deposits in an ancient lake. It is interesting too that life on Earth helps the formation of Manganese so its presence on Mars is a mystery.

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A Magnetohydrodynamic Drive Could Lead to Fuel Stations on Mars

Graphic depiction of Magnetohydrodynamic Drive for Hydrogen and Oxygen Production in Mars Transfer. Credit: Alvaro Romero-Calvo

Within the next fifteen years, NASA, China, and SpaceX plan to send the first crewed missions to Mars. In all three cases, these missions are meant to culminate in the creation of surface habitats that will allow for many returns and – quite possibly – permanent human settlements. This presents numerous challenges, one of the greatest of which is the need for plenty of breathable air and propellant. Both can be manufactured through electrolysis, where electromagnetic fields are applied to water (H2O) to create oxygen gas (O2) and liquid hydrogen (LH2).

While Mars has ample deposits of water ice on its surface that make this feasible, existing technological solutions fall short of the reliability and efficiency levels required for space exploration. Fortunately, a team of researchers from Georgia Tech has proposed a “Magnetohydrodynamic Drive for Hydrogen and Oxygen Production in Mars Transfer” that combines multiple functionalities into a system with no moving parts. This system could revolutionize spacecraft propulsion and was selected by NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program for Phase I development.

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Perseverance is Definitely Inside an Ancient Lake on Mars

Aerial view of Jezero Crater on Mars
Jezero Crater on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

The search for life on alien worlds has captivated us for hundreds of years. In some respect, the search for life has expanded to the search for water since it is not unreasonable to assume if there is water then there is a good chance there is life too. When NASA selected the landing site for Perseverance, they were looking for such a body of water and settled upon the Jezero Crater. Images from orbiters reveal a crater that looks like it has been filled with water in the past but further investigations were needed to confirm. Now it seems, Perseverance has risen to the challenge. 

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A Biocatalytic Reactor for Detoxifying Water on Mars!

Artist's impression of water under the Martian surface. Credit: ESA/Medialab

Mars is the next frontier of human space exploration, with NASA, China, and SpaceX all planning to send crewed missions there in the coming decades. In each case, the plans consist of establishing habitats on the surface that will enable return missions, cutting-edge research, and maybe even permanent settlements someday. While the idea of putting boots on Martian soil is exciting, a slew of challenges need to be addressed well in advance. Not the least of which is the need to locate sources of water, which consist largely of subsurface deposits of water ice.

Herein lies another major challenge: Martian ice deposits are contaminated by toxic perchlorates, potent oxidizers that cause equipment corrosion and are hazardous to human health (even at low concentrations). To this end, crewed missions must bring special equipment to remove perchlorates from water on Mars if they intend to use it for drinking, irrigation, and manufacturing propellant. This is the purpose of Detoxifying Mars, a proposed concept selected by the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program for Phase I development.

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A New Map Shows Where Mars is Hiding all its Ice

The blue areas on this map of Mars are regions where NASA missions have detected subsurface water ice (from the equator to 60 degrees north latitude). Scientists can use the map – part of the Subsurface Water Ice Mapping project – to decide where the ... Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Planetary Science Institute.

Water will be one of the most important resources for human explorers on Mars. They’ll need it for drinking, propellant, breathing, and more. It makes sense to land near a spot where there’s water ice close to the surface.

NASA has released a new map of Mars’s northern hemisphere showing all the places where subsurface water ice has been detected, some of which are surprisingly close to the equator, as well as surprisingly close to the surface. This map could decide the first human landing site.

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This Sure Looks Like the Movements of a Glacier Across Ancient Mars

HiRISE image showing rough terrain possibly shaped by ancient glaciers. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona

It is a scientific certainty that Mars was once a much different place, with a denser atmosphere, warmer temperatures, and where water once flowed. Evidence of this past is preserved in countless surface features, ranging from river channels and alluvial deposits to lakebeds. However, roughly 4 billion years ago, the planet began to change into what we see today, an extremely cold and desiccated environment. Between all that, it is possible Mars experienced glacial and interglacial periods, which is evidenced by images like the one taken by the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) shown above.

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Olympus Could Have Been a Giant Volcanic Island in an Ancient Martian Ocean

Olympus Mons, captured by the ESA's Mars Express mission from orbit. Credit: ESA/DLR/FUBerlin/AndreaLuck

Olympus Mons, located at the northwest edge of the Tharsis Montes region on Mars, was appropriately named. Based on readings obtained by the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA), an instrument aboard NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor (MGS), this mountain is the tallest in the Solar System, standing 21.9 km (13.6 mi) tall – about two and a half times the height of Mount Everest (8.85 km; 5.5 mi). According to current estimates, this extinct shield volcano formed during Mars’ Hesperian Period (ca. 3.7 to 3 billion years ago), which was characterized by widespread volcanic activity and catastrophic flooding.

This coincides with a period when Mars had a denser atmosphere, a warmer environment, and flowing water on its surface. This included a global ocean that spanned much of the northern hemisphere, known today as the Northern Lowlands, encompassing Olympus Mons. According to a recent study led by researchers from the Centre National de Recherches Scientifique (CNRS), features found on the slopes of Olympus Mons indicate that it could have been a massive volcanic island where volcanic eruptions flowed into the ocean, similar to ones found on Earth.

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Perseverance Finds an Ancient, Fast Flowing River

In a first for Martian water science, NASA’s Perseverance rover has discovered geological evidence of a large, fast-moving river in Mars’ ancient past. The high-energy river once emptied into Jezero crater, which the rover has been exploring since early 2021, and is a totally different water system than anything seen previously on the red planet.

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China's Mars Rover Finds Recent Evidence of Water Near the Equator

China's Zhurong rover on Mars
An image from China's Zhurong rover shows spacecraft hardware in the foreground and Martian terrain in the background. (Credit: CNSA)

The surface of Mars is a pretty desolate place at first glance. The soil is many times as dry as the driest desert on planet Earth, the temperatures swing from one extreme to the other, and the air is incredibly thin and toxic. And yet, there’s ample evidence that the planet was once much warmer and wetter, with lots of flowing and standing water on its surface. Over time, as Mars’ atmosphere was slowly stripped away, much of this water was lost to space, and what remains is largely concentrated around the poles as glacial ice and permafrost.

For years, space agencies have been sending robotic landers, rovers, orbiters, and aerial vehicles to Mars to learn more about when this transition took and how long it took. According to China’s Tianwen-1 mission, which includes the Zhurong rover, there may have been liquid water on the Martian surface later than previously thought. According to new research from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the Zhurong rover observed salt-rich dunes in the Utopia Planitia region that showed cracks and crusts, indicating the possible presence of water as recently as a few hundred thousand years ago.

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Curiosity Just Found its Strongest Evidence of Ancient Water and Waves on Mars

This week, NASA’s Curiosity rover stumbled across the best evidence yet that liquid water once covered much of Mars in the planet’s distant past: undulating rippled rock formations – now frozen in time – that were sculpted by the waves of an ancient shallow lake. But perhaps the biggest surprise is that they were discovered in an area that researchers expected to be dry.

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