The primary reported findings from China’s Mars rover recommend the plain it’s exploring was formed by winds – and maybe additionally by water


7 March 2022

Zhurong rover

China’s first Mars rover Zhurong with the touchdown platform

Xinhua / Alamy

China’s Zhurong Mars rover landed at Utopia Planitia – a big plain within the northern lowlands of the planet – again in Might 2021. Now, preliminary knowledge collected by the rover means that the location has been topic to lengthy durations of weathering previously by wind, and possibly even water.

Throughout Zhurong’s first 60 sols (Mars-days) of operation, it traversed 450.9 metres of flat land plagued by small rocks. On the identical time, the rover collected knowledge to review the planet’s geological construction and floor composition, which included taking soil and dirt samples in addition to capturing pictures with a digital camera known as NaTeCam.

Liang Ding on the Harbin Institute of Expertise in China and his colleagues analysed this preliminary knowledge.

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Lots of the rocks that have been discovered across the touchdown web site have been coated with etchings and grooves on one facet, which signifies that they should have undergone intense wind erosion from sand. A number of the rocks even have a flaky texture, which usually arises from interactions with water, say the authors.

The rover additionally encountered a number of megaripples on the Martian floor – wind-sculpted options made up of unfastened sediment that span a number of metres.

“The examples Zhurong has visited seem very bright-toned in satellite tv for pc pictures taken from orbit, and the group thinks that it is because the megaripples are coated with a layer of very wonderful mud,” says Matt Balme on the Open College, UK, who wasn’t concerned within the evaluation. “This implies these options are most likely at present inactive, as any present-day windblown sand would are likely to take away the mud.”

Scientists obtained a primary glimpse of Utopia Planitia’s rocks with NASA’s Viking 2 lander in 1976. At the moment, they have been broadly interpreted as fragments of basaltic lava, says John Bridges on the College of Leicester, UK.

“Nevertheless, the touchdown web site rocks right here don’t clearly appear to be basaltic lava terrain that we affiliate with the crust at Utopia Planitia,” says Bridges. “Zhurong is suggesting a extra difficult geological evolution than anticipated from Viking 2.”

“From Viking 2, the paradigm was that Mars was an enormous lump of basalt with possibly a couple of flood channels,” says Bridges. However now the proof from the rover helps a paradigm shift in the direction of a sedimentary Mars, he says.

The soil samples taken on the web site by Zhurong have been discovered to have an identical composition to these collected by different rovers elsewhere on Mars.

General, these preliminary findings recommend that this web site has the potential to offer extra perception into the historical past of the planet’s floor.

“What’s actually thrilling is that many scientists suppose that Utopia Planitia could have as soon as hosted an historic liquid water ocean, billions of years in the past,” says Joel Davis on the Pure Historical past Museum in London. “Hopefully, as Zhurong continues to discover, will probably be capable of assist reply this query [of whether there was an ocean] that’s been plaguing scientists for many years.”

Journal reference: Nature Geoscience, DOI: 10.1038/s41561-022-00905-6

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