Since the Viking missions of the 1970s, planetary scientists have changed their perception of water on Mars several times, passing from the picture of a dry planet to that of a warmer and wetter one. Mars Express's data are now shading a new light on the complex issue of the evolution of water on the Red Planet.
Glacial feature in Deuteronilus Mensae
"We are re-writing the history of Mars," says Gerhard Neukum, Freie Universitaet Berlin, Germany, and the Principal Investigator on Mars Express’s High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC). "The big picture of a warm wet Mars is not completely correct. Any warm wet period lasted only a few hundred million years. By four thousand million years ago, it was over," he adds.
Three instruments on Mars Express have been at the centre of this revolution in thought. One is the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS). Since July 2005, MARSIS has probed beneath the surface of Mars to depths of thousands of metres. This is the first time such investigations have taken place.
"MARSIS has shown that many of the upper layers of Mars contain water ice," says Jeffrey Plaut of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, who is the co-Principal Investigator on the MARSIS experiment.
The scientists detected abundant water ice in the Martian polar regions and also received a surprise from some of the very first results that MARSIS returned. When the radar passed over the mid northern latitudes of Chryse Planitia, the signals showed a buried impact crater, below the surface. Inside this impact structure was a thick layer of possibly water-ice-rich material. "We are finding reservoirs of ice that have never been seen before," says Plaut, "But we are still puzzling out when and where the water on Mars was liquid."
“The last MARSIS observations have been done on the South Pole,” adds Giovanni Picardi, MARSIS Principal Investigator, from the University of Rome ‘La Sapienza’. “The quality of the preliminary results of the advanced analysis we are still performing are really exciting and promising, with respect to the main scientific objectives of our experiment.” The objectives include the detection of subsurface water.
The OMEGA Visible and Infrared Mineralogical Mapping Spectrometer has taken giant steps towards answering that question. OMEGA detects minerals on the surface of Mars. Three in particular reveal the history of Martian water. "We have demonstrated that water could have been stable on Mars's surface but not for very long," says Jean-Pierre Bibring, Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale, Orsay, France, and OMEGA's Principal Investigator.
OMEGA detected clay-like minerals that form during long-term exposure to water, but only in the oldest regions of Mars. That suggested water flowed during the first few hundred million years of the planet’s history only. When these bodies of water were lost, water then occasionally burst from inside the planet but quickly evaporated.
During the evaporation they made sulphates, the second mineral that OMEGA detected. When even this stopped and the remaining water on Mars became permanently frozen, then the atmosphere gradually turned the soil red by creating the third mineral OMEGA detected, ferric oxide.
Mars has been like this for thousands of millions of years. "It is remarkable that, for the first time, we have identified where and when liquid water might have been present on Mars. It is not where one thought of before," says Bibring.
The images from the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) point towards the same conclusions. They show the Martian surface in the most exquisite detail, revealing features just 10 metres across. They clearly show extremely old Martian regions that have been eroded by flowing water. The pictures also show a huge valley, Kasei Valles, carved by a gigantic Martian glacier that persisted for a thousand million years during the time when the temperature of Mars had dropped too low for liquid water to flow across the surface.
"We see a clear link between volcanic regions and water flows," says Neukum. Wherever there has been volcanic activity on Mars, it has melted water inside Mars and let it flow to the surface. Some of these flows are recent – geologically speaking. "At the foot of Olympus Mons, HRSC sees evidence for water flows that have happened within the last 30 million years," says Neukum.
NASA’s latest spacecraft, the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter (MRO), carries instruments that lead on from those of Mars Express. The same team that developed MARSIS have built the MRO Shallow Radar (SHARAD). This is tuned to focus on the shallower layers of Mars, whereas MARSIS looks deeper. OMEGA's sister instrument on MRO is the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM). This will look in more detail at minerals on the Martian surface. However, the instrument only has a small field of view, so it will need guidance. "They will target primarily the areas that OMEGA has shown to be interesting," says Bibring.
"Mars Express has provided unprecedented evidence on the history of water on Mars. Now, we look forward to new investigations that will build on this legacy," says Augustin Chicarro, Mars Express’s Project Scientist at ESA.
Agustin Chicarro | alfa
Significantly more productivity in USP lasers
06.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Lasertechnik ILT
Shape matters when light meets atom
05.12.2016 | Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
06.12.2016 | Materials Sciences
06.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
06.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering