A new Mars map holds the potential to transform how researchers think about the planet’s history with water: The new map shows the locations and abundance of aqueous minerals arising from chemically changed rocks and was developed using sensor data from the Mars Express and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter missions. Future mission landing places can be determined by scientists using historical water activity.
Data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Express probes’ respective instruments, the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) and Observatories pour la Mineralogie, l’Eau, les Glaces et l’Activité (OMEGA), were used to create the research. Both instruments gathered data in the same wavelength range and have the same mineral sensitivity.
The distinction is that CRISM offered spectral images of the surface at great resolution, making it ideal for mapping small areas of interest like rovers’ landing locations. OMEGA has greater spectral resolution and a wider coverage of Mars, making it better suited for both global and regional mapping.
When water and rocks come into contact on Earth, clay is formed; depending on the circumstances, several forms of clay are produced. For instance, the minerals smectite and vermiculite are created when relatively little amounts of water interact with rocks, trapping the majority of the elements there, in this case, iron and magnesium.
On the other hand, if there is a lot of water present, the rocks can change more and the water tends to carry the soluble elements away, leaving behind clays like kaolin that are rich in aluminum. In this instance, the map showed that the earliest parts of Mars include hundreds of thousands of locations where minerals are abundant. According to John Carter, author of one of the publications presenting the map, “the new work has proven that when you’re analyzing old landscape in detail, the funny thing is you don’t see these minerals.”
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