Extraterrestrial Resources – Water on Planet Mars
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Today we take a look beyond the borders of our planet. Within only a few decades, mankind will be in a desperate need for clean and also drinkable water. Therefore, all nations engaged in the exploration of space, are looking for proven evidence of substantial water resources on other planets. Currently, we are indeed surprised about the extraordinary reports being published by NASA, ESA and the Chinese Space Agency. It is remarkable what they have achieved so far and found out during their missions on Planet Mars. We give our readers an overview about the fascinating research results of the European, American and Chinese Space Agencies.
The ESA Trace Gas Orbiter
The ESA Trace Gas Orbiter spacecraft is orbiting the planet Mars and has made a sensational discovery in a region that has often been compared to the Grand Canyon in North America, because of its size and surface conditions.
It has been known for some years that there is water on Planet Mars, mainly in the area around the poles. Now, researchers have made a groundbreaking new discovery on the Red Planet:
Vast amounts of water could have existed, indeed, in a region called Valles Marineris (Mariner Valleys). This is an extensive area of deep trenches that stretches 4.000 kilometres long and up to 700 kilometres wide, including valleys up to 7.000 meters in depth. That is why this area, which is in the focus of the new discovery, is also being called the „Grand Canyon“ of Mars.
In order to discover water in the „Grand Canyon“ on Mars, researchers analysed data from the European-Russian Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), which has been orbiting the Red Planet eversince October 2016. The orbiter has the Fine Resolution Epithermal Neutron Detector (FREND) instrument on board, which is able to detect hydrogen up to one meter down below the surface of Mars.
„With TGO, we can see what’s really going on beneath the surface of Mars and locate water-rich ‚oases‘ that couldn’t be detected with previous instruments,“ explains Igor Mitrofanov of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.
Using the FREND instrument, the researchers were able to trace a region „with an unusually high content of hydrogen“ in the Valles Marineris Canyon System, as Mitrofanov reports in a news release from the European Space Agency ESA.
Beyond Expectations, Vast Amounts of Water Discovered in ‚Grand Canyon of Mars’
„Assuming that the hydrogen we see is tight up in water molecules, a forty percent of the near-surface material in this region appears to be water,“ so the researcher says, summarising the Mars findings.
„We found out that a central part of Valles Marineris is full of water, and much more water than we expected,“ Malakhov points out, comparing the findings to Earth: „It’s similar to permafrost regions on our Earth, where water ice persists permanently because of consistently low temperatures under dry soil. The water could exist in the form of ice or as water chemically bound to other minerals in the soil,” he states. „Overall, we think this water is more likely to exist in the form of ice,“ Malakhov remarks, summarising the research team’s findings.
In the region of Mars where the water was found by the researchers, normally, water ice evaporates due to temperature and pressure conditions, and the same is true for chemically bound water: only with the right combination of pressure, temperature and fluid supply, minerals on Mars never lose their water content. This indicates that some special mix of conditions must be the basis to ensure the capability of the Valles Marineris to preserve water, or replenish it, as the ESA release says.
NASA Finds Liquid Water on Mars
The NASA Rover „Perseverance“ explores Planet Mars, and even solves a mystery only shortly after his arrival on the Red Planet. And this has exactly been speculated about for a long time.
The NASA Rover „Perseverance“ faces major tasks on Mars. Among other things, he is to search indications of earlier microbial life on the Red Planet and also explore his geology, as well as earlier climate conditions on Mars. The Rover has already delivered evidence and given answers: By having transmitted the very first photographs to Earth, as NASA now communicates!
All these images, together with a study hereto, were published in the Journal “Science”.
„This is the key observation that confirms to us, once and for all, that there was a lake and a river delta at Jezero Crater,“ scientist Nicolas Mangold, the study’s lead author, reported in a NASA news release. Today, the Jezero Crater, where ”Perseverance“ landed in February 2021, is dry as dust. Nevertheless, in previous times, it definitely must have carried water, as experts conclude from the mere images taken by the Mars Rover. 3.7 billion years ago, the Jezero Crater was a lake, which was fed by a small river.
Perseverance Reveals: Jezero Crater on Mars was a Lake Fed by a Small River
Scrutinising these photographs “eagle-eyed”, they also reveal that some heavy and violent floods must have been generated within the lake, apparently carrying large stones and rocks for uncountable kilometres along the river and depositing them in the lake, finally, where they still lie today, according to the researchers.
Mars experts assume that water once existed on the surface of the Red Planet, nevertheless, having dried up about 3.5 billion years ago. In those days, as current research proves, Mars had lost his magnetic field, and, as a result, a gradual decline and final loss of his atmosphere followed. Another theory assumes that Mars was too small for holding water permanently. Any plausible explanation about water resources on Mars remains undiscovered, or, untold up to today.
NASA Rover „Perseverance“ is to Continue his Journey to Former River Delta
Meanwhile, the Rover „Perseverance“ has covered about 2.6 kilometres in the Jezero Crater, and, if all goes according to plan, he will be able to get a close-up look at the rocks he photographed from afar to solve the mystery of the lake. The plan is for the Rover to travel to the former river delta to take soil samples.
Experts believe that sediments from the former lake could even contain traces of earlier life in the water. That is why „Perseverance“ will also collect such samples, as Tanja Bosak from MIT explains. „We now have the opportunity to search for fossils”.
The soil samples collected by the Rover will be sent to Earth. This alone presents a highly complicated procedure: The Rover will store the soil samples „Perseverance“ collects on the surface of Mars, and a future mission will deliver the samples from Mars back to Earth, where scientists then will be able to study them thoroughly. „It will take some time to get the rocks where we hope to find traces of life. It’s a marathon with great potential,“ Bosak added.
China’s ‘First Step’ in Planetary Exploration
It does not take us by surprise that China, too, takes part in the ambitious race to explore the Red Planet. In May 2021, China also landed a Rover on Mars, completing the most difficult stretch of its mission to send an orbiter, lander and rover to the Red Planet. It was China’s first independent mission to Mars. So, after the United States, China was the second country to successfully place a Rover on the planet.
Since September 2021, the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC), which has been constantly receiving these data from space, has already released nearly 200 gigabytes of information that was collected from eight instruments on the Rover and Orbiter between February and June of 2021. Among these instruments, cameras, a radar system, climate sensors and a laser spectrometer are to be found.
Dear Readers, we will keep you informed about all activities performed by major players in the race for the sake of further exploration of the near-earth planets and of the universe.
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