Unexpected find under Mars crater sheds light on planet's past

The Perseverance rover, which arrived on Mars in early 2021, is exploring the Lake Lake region in search of evidence of past and possibly present life. Its mission includes collecting soil samples that will be sent to Earth in the future. Scientists believe that these samples will reveal the secrets of the planet, although some exciting details are already coming to them – they are based on indicators from the rover’s scientific instruments.

So, according to new data from the Radar Imager for Mars subsurFAce eXperiment (RIMFAX) georadar, the rock layers under the crater have a strange slope – up to 15 degrees. This was told by a group of researchers led by the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Oslo.

Image: NASA

We were quite surprised to find the stones stacked at an angle. We expected to see horizontal layers at the bottom of the crater. The fact that they are tilted in this way requires a more complex geological history.

David Page

professor at UCLA

These strange patches below the surface could be from slow-cooling lava flows rushing upward, or could be sediment from an underground lake, scientists say.

After analyzing all the data, the research team noted that sloping rocks were common throughout the area surveyed by Perseverance. What puzzled the scientists even more was that in the areas they discovered, the layers tilted in several directions.

The most likely explanation for this occurrence is igneous in origin, when the movement of lava underground formed layers of rocks over time, and then they cooled and hardened.

However, there is also the possibility that these layers are sedimentary – a phenomenon found in the aquatic environment on Earth.

RIMFAX gives us a view of the stratigraphy of Mars, similar to what you can see on Earth in highway sections, where high layers of rock are sometimes visible on the slope as you drive by.

David Page

Prior to the landing of Perseverance, there were many hypotheses about the nature and origin of the crater floor rocks. Now scientists have been able to narrow the range of versions, making sure that this story can be much more complicated than previously thought.

The data collected by RIMFAX will be of great value when samples from Perseverance are returned to Earth for deeper analysis. Knowing what lies beneath the Lake crater and how it formed will provide the necessary context for characterizing the rocks. This, in turn, will provide answers to the most exciting questions: when did water flow on the surface of Mars, how long did it take, and how and when did the planet move into the extremely cold and dry environment that we see today?

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