China's Zhurong Rover, which landed on Mars in 2021, has found evidence of massive ancient floods on Mars. This provides further evidence that the red planet was very likely a habitable world in the distant past.
China continues to make significant progress in its space missions. The Asian country has been actively exploring the near and far side of the Moon with its numerous robotic missions, discovering, among other things, a new mineral on Earth’s satellite. But China is also on Mars. As part of the Tianwen-1 Mars mission, China’s Zhurong Rover is the first rover to land on another planet.
The rover placed China on a small list of countries that successfully landed on Mars. It is only the third country, after the Soviet Union and the United States, that has soft-landed a spacecraft on Mars and established communication from the surface. Now, the mission is already paying off by offering scientists new insight into the red planet and its past.
Chinese Academy of Sciences researchers have found evidence of layered subsurfaces in Utopian Basin on Mars in collaboration with colleagues from Peking University. They explain what they found about the ground beneath the Utopia Planitia basin on Mars by analyzing radar data from the Zhurong rover published in Nature.
Zhurong landed on Mars in May 2021 by the Chinese National Space Administration. Since then, the mission has been rolling through the Utopia Planitia basin, identifying the terrain and material beneath the reddish Martian soil. Over the course of its journey, the rover has traveled approximately 1,171 meters. Researchers have been able to create underground maps measuring depths between three and ten meters by using the rover’s ground-penetrating radar as it moves.
Besides the radar, the rover is equipped with a low-frequency radio transmitter that can send radio waves deep into the ground at depths up to 100 meters. However, its resolution is much lower than that of the radar. According to the data gathered by these devices, the basin has at least two layers of material beneath it, neither of which are believed to contain water. The first layer spanned approximately 10 to 30 meters, and the second from 30 to 80 meters.
Radio waves and radar cannot distinguish between rock and ice or lava. Therefore, researchers have relied on theories to explain the layers below the surface. Approximately 3 billion years ago, smaller rocks probably settled on bigger rocks as they were swept away during a flood, leading to the deeper, older layer.
It would have required a fast flood with enough energy to carry large rocks to make the formation they found. It is believed that the second layer may also have been created by a flood approximately 1.6 billion years ago in a similar manner. Prior research suggests a lot of glacial activity occurred during that time period, they note. Furthermore, neither layer was created by volcanic activity, according to the researchers. This is interesting because more and more studies have shown that in the very distant past, Mars was likely a world that was more than capable of harboring life.
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