liquid water much more recently than we thought!

Data collected by the Zhurong robot, currently present on the surface of the planet Mars, suggests that liquid water was present much more recently than we thought.

Clement Meirone May 13 4 min
Martian landscape with craters
Liquid water did flow on Mars, and not so long ago on a geological scale!

We already knew that water had actually flowed on the planet Mars several billion years ago, but it could end up being more recently than expected… Data collected by the Rover Zhurong, currently present on the surface of March, suggest that the presence of water on the red planet is much more recent. Explanations.

A space mission led by China

The Rover Zhurong is a robot from the Chinese space agency (CNSA) which landed on Mars in May 2021, about a year ago. It is present in a large crater in the north of the planet called “Utopia Planitia”, a relatively unexplored area so far.

The robot weighs around 240 kg and is shaped like a butterfly. Unlike American machines like Curiosity or Perseverance, Zhurong does not have an articulated arm. On the other hand, it has various sensors, such as a telescopic micro-imaging camera or a SWIR spectrometer. (short-wave infrared), which is used to observe the minerals present on the Martian surface.

It is through this that scientists from the National Center for Space Science in Beijing analyzed the rocks on the surface of the crater in order to find minerals containing water. They thus discovered rocks with light tones of duricrust (hard layer near the surface of the ground), which would have been formed by activities of a significant amount of liquid water, such as melting ice or rising groundwater.

Liquid water 700 million years ago

This finding suggests that the liquid water seems to have persisted much longer than originally thought. Until now, scientists believed that the presence of liquid water on Mars dated back about 3 billion yearsor during the Hesperian period.

These minerals discovered on the surface of Mars by the Rover Zhurong indicate the presence of liquid water around 700 million years agoduring the Amazonian period (recent geological epoch of the planet spanning the last 3 billion years).

This new research is a game-changer and therefore suggests that the planet’s surface may have been sculpted by liquid water during its recent geological history. This information may seem ridiculous, but it will be useful in the search for a potential source of water for future missions on site.