China’s Zhurong rover reveals how time and ancient water have altered rocks on Mars

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China’s first Mars rover reveals how time and ancient water have changed the surface of the largest impact basin on Mars.

China The Zhurong rover has landed in the Utopia Planitia, a 2,000 mile wide (3,300 kilometer) basin in the northern hemisphere of Marchin May 2021. Since then, the rover has been studying local geology, rock chemistry and local weather conditions using its six science instruments.

A new study based on data from the first 60 Zhurong soils (approximately 62 Earth days) on the planet reveals how weather and water interaction have altered the rocks around the Zhurong landing site for millions of years.

In the study, a team of researchers led by Liang Ding from the Harbin Institute of Technology in northeast China, used images from the rover’s Navigation and Surveying Cameras (NaTeCam) to observe the structure. rocks. In many of the rocks studied, the researchers found grooves and etchings of particles blown away by the wind, but also shards that seem to testify to interactions with water or brines.

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“Rock textures observed at the site so far may indicate both the presence of physical weathering – for example, impact pulverization, wind erosion and freeze-thaw potential – and aqueous interactions involving the salt and brine,” the authors said in the article. adding that the site offers opportunities for follow-up surveys.

“These rock and soil targets provide excellent opportunities to peek into the aqueous history and climatic evolution of the northern lowlands, and shed light on the evolution of Mars’ habitability. .”

Kirsten Siebach, assistant professor in the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Rice University, agrees with the Chinese team’s assessment.

“There appears to be surface evidence of something like a contraction-expansion process, which may be from the brine or a freeze/thaw effect or really large temperature changes,” he said. she told Space.com. “This causes a kind of rock shattering. This is consistent with what we’ve seen at other landing sites on Mars, where the rocks are exposed differently than on Earth.”

The chemical data would help provide more information about what happened in the area. Zhurong has a LIBS (Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy) instrument that could trigger his laser to create a tiny amount of plasma from the target and analyze its composition. The new article does not use any LIBS data, nor does it indicate whether it was collected from the rock specimens.

Siebach also points to the value of having images and data from a new landing site on Mars.

“By having 9 to 10 landing sites on the surface of Mars, we’re starting to better understand which processes are relatively or appear to be global,” Siebach said.

Siebach notes that the paper contains a lot of valuable information about ground physics and how the ground reacts to the rover flying over it and its landing gear. “It’s actually very important if you want to land there with humans.”

China is planning a sample return mission to Mars, potentially launched in 2028, but has not yet released information on candidate landing sites.

NASA Viking 2 posed in northern Utopia Planitia in 1976 among many rocks, while Zhurong operates in much less complicated terrain.

Zhurong has already completed his main mission of 90 Sols. But the rover continues on its way south from its landing site, collecting data as it goes.

During this time the Tianwen 1 orbiter that carried Zhurong from Earth to Mars marked its first anniversary orbiting the Red Planet on February 10. The orbiter began its dedicated science mission in November while helping to relay data from the rover back to Earth.

the paper was published on Tuesday March 7 in the journal Nature Geoscience.

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