Jezero Crater on Mars was a quiet lake 3.7 billion years ago, but a flash flood smashed into large boulders on the delta and formed the crater, images from the Perseverance rover reveal.
The spacecraft has been wandering inside the crater since it reached the Red Planet in February, sending pictures of rocks and other phenomena.
The latest set of images were taken inside the ancient crater and studied in detail by experts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge.
They found that during its time as a lake, Jezero crater received support from a steadily smaller river, with occasional floods forcing the water to flow over the edge.
This flood was energetic enough to sweep large boulders tens of miles upriver, depositing them at the bottom of the lake, where the gigantic boulders still lie today.
The researchers based their findings on images of rocks found inside the crater on its western side, and compared them to previous satellite images of the outcrop itself.
Viewed from above the crater, it resembled river deltas on Earth, with fan-shaped deposits of sediment.
New images taken from the crater confirm that this outcrop was indeed a river delta, and according to the new study, it was quiet for most of its existence.
The dramatic shift in climate led to occasional flooding at or near the end of the lake’s history, eventually resulting in the dry, desert-like landscape we see today.
“If you look at these images, you’re basically staring at this epic desert landscape,” said Benjamin Weiss, a professor of planetary sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It’s the most miserable place you could ever visit. There’s not a drop of water anywhere, however, Here we have evidence of a completely different past. Something very profound happened in the history of the planet.”
Now, having confirmed that the crater was once a lake environment, scientists believe its sediments could hold traces of ancient aquatic life.
Perseverance will search for sediment collection and preservation sites, and these samples will eventually be returned to Earth for closer study.
“Now we have an opportunity to look for fossils,” said team member Tanya Bosak, associate professor of geobiology at MIT. “It’s going to take some time to get to the rocks that we really hope to sample for signs of life. So, it’s a marathon, With a lot of potential.”
Weiss added: “The most surprising thing that resulted from these images was the potential opportunity to capture the time when this crater transitioned from an Earth-like habitable environment, to this deserted state that we see now. These rocky features may be records of this transition, and we haven’t seen that. elsewhere on Mars.
Experts from Imperial College London and the University of Florida were also involved in the research, studying the images to predict the history of Mars.
A month after the rover landed on Mars, the Mastcam-Z and Remote Micro-Imager were zoomed in to capture a close-up of a geologic feature called Delta Scarp.
The cliff contains the remains of a river delta that formed where an ancient 120-mile-long river and 21-mile-wide lake join. As part of studying this phenomenon, the team found a nearby prominent mound that they named the Kodiak. It contained distinct geological structures, and within its rocky appearance, they noticed imprints of sloping rock layers sandwiched between horizontal layers indicating rocky sediments from the ancient delta.
Co-lead author of the paper, Sanjeev Gupta, from the Department of Earth Sciences and Engineering at Imperial College London, said the findings have an impact on decisions about where to take rock samples to return to Earth. And perhaps the finest materials in the lower part of the delta contain our best bet for finding evidence of organic matter and biosignatures, and the rocks at the top will enable us to sample older pieces of crustal rock.
On land, river deltas are formed by the slow and steady accumulation of sedimentary particles the size of sand and gravel that are deposited when a river enters a large lake.
However, the team discovered similar but more dramatic deposits in the upper layers of the Scarp delta on Mars, suggesting that large rocks move in floods.
The results were published in the journal . Science.
Source: Daily Mail
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