(ORDO NEWS) — A team of scientists from NASA’s Mars 2020 mission is working to study the history of the ancient Martian landscape.
In August, scientists released some of the first sets of results from the Perseverance rover’s exploration of the Red Planet.
More than 3 billion years ago, a large asteroid slammed into Mars, creating the Lake Lake crater, which stretches almost 48 km across and contains rolling sand dunes and rocky cliffs.
Using scientific instruments aboard Perseverance, scientists began to study the landscape’s past, examining how igneous rocks shaped the crater floor and how water shaped the rocks as the vast lake filled the region.
Perseverance landed on Mars on February 18, 2021. For more than 570 Martian days, the rover has studied almost 12 km of the planet’s surface.
The new research is focused on analyzing the geological formations and features found at the bottom of the crater, including the Maaz and Sate regions.
Lake Crater may look dry and dusty today, but more than 3 billion years ago there was a lake here.
The team’s first set of finds concerns two geological formations, Maaz and Seit. To study the area, the researchers used several instruments aboard the Perseverance, including the SuperCam.
This rotary instrument is mounted on top of the rover and uses laser light to quantify elements and identify minerals present in various rocks.
A mass of hot molten rock existed at the bottom of the crater, which settled and cooled in several stages, potentially forming both Seit and Maaz. Maaz may also have formed when individual lava flows moved into the crater.
“One of the ideas is that it was a single rock mass formed from the cooling of magma underground,” said geologist Lisa Mayhew.
“But another model is that Maaz may have been formed by lava actively flowing across the surface of Mars.”
To find out if Lake’s rocks could have supported life billions of years ago, scientists will need to study samples from Mars in labs on Earth.
NASA is working with the European Space Agency (ESA) on separate missions that will go to Mars to pick up 30 test tubes of samples collected by the rover and bring them back to Earth.
To date, the team has filled 13 sample tubes: 12 with rocks and one with an atmospheric sample. In the near future, scientists plan to collect even more rock samples.
In March 2022, Perseverance left the crater floor and traveled to the mission’s most spectacular terrain, the delta. Here, the team will collect rocks that settled to the bottom of the crater when water once flowed on Mars.
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