NASA’s Perseverance Rover shines light over the secrets of Jezero Crater
NASA sent Perverance rover over to the red planet Mars, to study and collect information about the planet’s geological and climatic history. On February 2021, the rover touched its landing spot in Jezero Crater.
For many years scientists had suspected the Jezero crater was once home to an ancient Martian lake. A study conducted by a team of NASA that was released in the Science Journal shines more light on the enigma and awe surrounding the crater.
The study asserts, using the evidence (in the form of photos) from Perseverance, that the Jezero cater was indeed a lake and that it has seen several instances of powerful flash flooding over the course of its lifetime. The research team used images taken by the rover during its first three months of exploration using the Mastcam-Z and the SuperCam Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) cameras on board. Apparently, the lake was there around 3.7 billion years ago.
From the images, it was clear that the crater was fed with water by a river that flowed into it. The channel that leads to the crater’s end was seen to have a fan-shaped plateau – suggesting it is in fact a delta formed by the sedimentation caused by the river.
The team’s analysis points to the idea that there was a past for Mars, in which this particular area had probably seen a warm, humid climate along with a complicated water cycle. If anything, this could have been a potential site for life to develop and evolve.
While the team does not have any clear answers to why the crater dried out, they did uncover some other interesting information about the crater. For them, observing the crater from the eye-level perspective of Perseverance was a watershed movement. For years, researchers had to rely on in-orbit images to study the planet’s surface. The fresh perspective that the new photos gave them more resources to work with.
The rover’s detailed photos of the crater allowed the team to analyze the patterns in the rocks from an outcropping called Kodiak. They have matched the rock patterns to the patterns found in river deltas on Earth proving that there was indeed a river and a delta there. They also found boulders that are as wides as five feet over a different part of the crater, sitting at the top of an otherwise fine-grained layer.
These rocks appear to be a miss fit there and it is as though they have been carved and shaped by the force of running water. In the paper, scientists argue that these rocks were carried over to craters from nearby areas by powerful flash floods.
By looking through different layers of sediments that make up the delta in the Jezero crater, it was clear that the flash floods interrupted the steady flow of the river occasionally. The team proposes that the flash floods might have been triggered by heavy rainfall, rapid melting of snow, volcanic eruption or even a meteor impact. It might have been also caused by the sudden bursting of glacial lakes.
To answer the question of whether there was life here, Perseverance will be continuing its journey deeper into the lake bed and collecting ancient samples. These are prime places to discover organic material with biosignatures.
Scientists are also pumped by the fact the Perseverance will be bringing back some of these rock samples to Earth for further study analysis. The big boulders provide an opportunity to collect samples that are not actually from the crater itself. Maybe the Perservarnce mission will be our key to unlocking deeper mysteries of Mars.