New water maps of Mars disclose the planet’s history and future

  • Scientists at the European Space Agency(ESA) have compiled a water map for Mars from over a decade worth of data.
  • The water maps show the presence of hydrated mineral deposits in the Mars crust.
  • This data will be useful for tapping water for the future colonization of Mars as well as provide ideal landing sites for upcoming missions.

Mars, the fourth member of our solar system, also popularly known as the red planet has always been a source of intrigue and mystery.

Being the only planet which harbours conditions similar to those responsible for sustaining life on Earth, scientists have been looking into the reality of “Martians” for ages now.

Now owing to new research from the European Space Agency (ESA) which was meticulously compiled over almost a decade, the world is ready to witness a new water map for the Mars surface.

What is a water map?

As the name suggests the primary aim of a water map is to disclose the available sources of water at a particular site. Scientists found hundreds and thousands of areas containing aqueous mineral deposits, which they assume to be created through interactions between rock and water.

John Carter of Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale in Pairs claimed that the real oddity lies in the fact that the minerals discovered after a detailed study of the ancient terrains are rather strange and haven’t been seen before.

This water map was compiled from data obtained from exploits of the CRISM spectrometer on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the OMEGA instrument on ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft.

The uses of the water map 

Firstly, since these maps indicate the location of water deposits or rather minerals containing water molecules, they could show locations where we can extract water for future human bases on the planet.

We all know that with rising pressure on ecological resources as well as with the advent of pollution, Earth may soon be inhospitable for humans. Hence even philanthropists such as Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX advocate for colonizing Mars, for the purpose of which these maps will be crucial.

The researchers combined the datasets to establish the locations and quantities of aqueous minerals. This will further be complemented with research into the climate of Mars and its capability to sustain human life. Scientists also aim to study whether the water was globally persistent or only present during short and intense periods.

Next, these maps are also important to understand ideal sites for exploring whether life once began on Mars. So they can be instrumental in probing the evolution and existence of Martian history.

And lastly, this data will be influential in future missions to the red planet as it provides a paradigm shift in our understanding of Martian land. These maps open up possibilities to recognize ideal landing sites.

The research team at ESA hopes to give Mars mission planners prime candidates for landing sites. They discovered a clay-rich site named Oxia Planum, which was chosen as the landing site for ESA’s Rosalind Franklin rover. This area contains an abundance of hydrated silica among iron and vermiculite, all of which are water-containing minerals.

Has the water always been there? 

The new water map goes on to prove that water deposits actually played a major role in shaping the planet’s geology. Researchers have claimed that this water map has oversimplified their understanding of Mars’ terrain.

Planetary scientists always thought that there were only very few types of clay minerals that could be found on Mars, which were formed mainly during the Red Planet’s wet period. On drying of the water, only the salts were left behind as residues. In other words, hydrated minerals became extinct.

That view has changed completely and has become more complicated. It’s been found that indeed most of the Martian salts did form after the clay was formed. But the complications arise from the fact that the new map shows some exceptions where an intimate mixing of salt and clay can be found.

The journey of the water drying up isn’t as clear as it was till now. Scientists claim that a simple timeline will not be sufficient to explain the varying geological phenomenons and they’ll be able to explain the mineralogy of Mars only after further examination.

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