Oct 12, 2021 - Science

Mars' water-rich past

Image of a view of Mars.

Part of the ancient delta seen by Perseverance. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

NASA's Perseverance rover has only been on Mars for a relatively short amount of time, but the spacecraft is already revealing the watery secrets of the Red Planet's ancient past.

Why it matters: Scientists have known at least some part of Mars was habitable billions of years ago, but this new data from Perseverance is allowing them to piece together more of the world's complex history.

What's happening: A new study in the journal Science uses photos taken by Perseverance to confirm that the ancient river delta in Jezero crater once flowed with water billions of years ago.

  • Long-lived water flows shaped the ground Perseverance now studies, but the new data also revealed fast-moving floods carried rocks from other areas into the delta.
  • By learning more about these flooding events and sediment deposits, Perseverance scientists may be able to better target samples that could show signs of organic materials that may reveal if life once thrived in Jezero.
  • "The finest-grained material at the bottom of the delta probably contains our best bet for finding evidence of organics and biosignatures," Sanjeev Gupta, a Perseverance scientist from Imperial College, London, and a co-author of the paper, said in a statement. "And the boulders at the top will enable us to sample old pieces of crustal rocks."

The big picture: One day, NASA plans to launch another mission that will collect those samples Perseverance gathers for a return to Earth.

  • By bringing those samples back, scientists will be able to use a range of tools to analyze the Martian rocks and learn more about them than a rover could.
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