China’s Zhurong rover.
Credit: CNSA

 

China’s Zhurong rover on Mars has detected recent aqueous activities within its exploration zone at Utopia Planitia.

A new research paper in Science Advances notes that Mars’ climate is cold and dry in the most recent epoch, and liquid water activities are considered extremely limited. Previous orbital data only show sporadic hydrous minerals in the northern lowlands of Mars excavated by large impacts.

Credit: Steve Yang Liu, Et al.

But using the short-wave infrared spectral data obtained by the Zhurong rover of China’s Tianwen-1 mission, scientists have identified hydrated sulfate/silica materials on the Amazonian terrain at the landing site.

These hydrated minerals are associated with bright-toned rocks, and are interpreted to be duricrust developed locally.

Credit: Steve Yang Liu, Et al.

Groundwater rising or subsurface ice melting

The lithified duricrusts suggests that formation with substantial liquid water originates by either groundwater rising or subsurface ice melting. The rover has gathered on-the-spot evidence for aqueous activities suggesting a more active Amazonian hydrosphere for Mars than previously thought.

Illustration of the scientific payloads mounted on Zhurong rover. The group picture of the rover (left) and the lander (right) was taken by the WiFi camera (Image Credit: the ChinaNational Space Administration (CNSA)). NaTeCam: Navigation and Terrain camera. RoMAG: Mars Rover Magnetometer. MSCam: Multispectral Camera. MSC-1: MarsClimate Station (Wind field and sound probe). MSC-2: Mars Climate Station (Air
temperature and pressure probe). MarSCoDe: Mars Surface Component Detector. RoPeR(CH1): Mars Rover Penetrating Radar (channel 1). RoPeR (CH2): Mars Rover
Penetrating Radar (channel 2).
Credit: Steve Yang Liu, Et al.

“The Zhurong landing site (and the northern lowlands) may contain a considerable amount of accessible water in the form of hydrated minerals and possibly ground ice for in situ resource utilization for future human Mars exploration,” the research paper concludes.

The Tianwen-1 lander, carrying the rover, performed a successful soft-landing on Mars in mid-May 2021.

Lead author of the paper is Steve Yang Liu of the State Key Laboratory of Space Weather, National Space Science Center, Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, China.

To view the paper – “Zhurong reveals recent aqueous activities in Utopia Planitia, Mars” – go to:

https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abn8555

 

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