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Mars: Discovery under the planet's Grand Canyon has taken experts by surprise

Mars: Discovery under the planet’s Grand Canyon has taken experts by surprise

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Under Valles Marineris, the “Grand Canyon of Mars”, researchers with the help of the European-Russian “Trace Case Orbiter” have discovered large amounts of water.

Frankfurt – There is water on Mars, mainly at the poles, as it is already known. But now researchers have made a new discovery on the red planet: a large body of water in the area of ​​Valles Marineris (Mariner Valleys). It is a large fissure system, 4000 km long and 700 km wide, with valleys up to 7000 m deep. This system is also known as the “Grand Canyon” of Mars and is the center of new discovery.

Researchers have been evaluating European-Russian “Trace Case Orbiter” (DGO) data orbiting the red planet since October 2016 to find water in the “Grand Canyon” on Mars. The orbiter has a FREND (Fine Resolution Epidermal Neutron Detector) instrument that looks up to a meter below the surface of Mars and detects hydrogen – a component of water.

“DGO can see what’s really going on on the surface of Mars and detect water-filled ‘oases’ that could not be detected with previous instruments,” explains Igor Mitrofanov of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Space Research Institute. He was the primary author of a new study describing the discovery of water on Mars in Moscow Published in the special issue of Icarus That.

Large amounts of water were found in the “Grand Canyon of Mars”.

With the help of the FREND instrument, researchers were able to find an area in the Wallace Marineris Valley that contained “unusually high levels of hydrogen,” according to Mitrofanov in the communications of the European Space Agency, ISA.

Walls Marineris on Mars. Researchers have found large-scale sediments there.

© DLR / dpa

“Assuming that the hydrogen we see is bound to water molecules, forty percent of the materials near the surface in this region appear to be water,” the researcher summarized on Mars’ discovery. The area where scientists suspect the presence of water is said to extend to the size of the Netherlands and the deep valleys of the region of Condor Chaos.

In order to find water on Mars, Mitrofanov and other scientists evaluated observations from May 2018 to February 2021. The FREND instrument did not observe light, but observed neutrons. “Neutrons are formed when high-energy particles called galactic cosmic rays hit Mars,” explains co-author Alexei Malakov. Dry soil emits more neutrons than wet soil, so it was possible to determine how much water is in the soil. Because FREND implements better spatial resolution than other tools, previously unnoticed water can now be detected.

Data from the Esa-Mars orbiter TGO show the presence of water in the Valles Marineris. The color scale shows the “hydrogen equivalent of water” (WEH) by weight (wt%).

© I. Mitrofanov et al. (2021)

Water on Mars: Researchers evaluate data from European Mars orbit

“We found that the central part of the Walls Marineris was filled with water – more water than we expected,” Malakov emphasizes, comparing the discovery to Earth: “It’s like permafrost areas on Earth where water is frozen. Water may be chemically bonded with other minerals in the soil.

Valles Marineris The split valley system on Mars
Position At the equator
Long 4000 kilometers
Wide Up to 700 km
Depth Up to 7000 meters

On Mars, where researchers discovered water, water ice generally evaporates due to temperature and pressure conditions; This also applies to chemically bound water: with the right combination of pressure, temperature and hydration, the minerals on Mars will not be lost. Their weight is water. According to the Esa announcement, this suggests that there should be a special compound to maintain water in the Valles Marineris – or to replenish it.

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Mars research: “An incredible first step”

Håkan Svedhem, co – author of the study and Esa’s staffer, already looks to the future: “This discovery is an incredible first step, but we need more observations to determine for sure what form water is in.” , The capabilities of the “Trace Case Orbiter” instrument, which shows “the largest, most shallow and most easily accessible reservoir in this part of Mars.”

The “Trace Case Orbiter”, which has been orbiting Mars since 2016, is the first part of a European-Russian Exosmarks program. The second part is scheduled to depart for the Red Planet in 2022: the European rover “Rosalind Franklin” will sit on the Russian base “Kazachok” to find out if there were ever any lives on Mars. He is not alone in this task: NASA Rovers “Curiosity” and “Persuasion” also have this task. The new Mars rover “Perseverance” has caused quite a stir recently: first it solved “one of the biggest puzzles” on Mars, and then it answered the question about Mars. (Tab)

Rubrick List Image: © Nasa / JPL / USGS