Friday, 19 April, 2019

Mars' rivers flowed stronger and more recently than previous estimates

Expose R2 in space The Expose R2 facility
Cary Marshall | 29 March, 2019, 21:30

But it once had massive rivers about two times wider than those on Earth today, and they flowed later in the planet's history than previously thought, researchers from University of Chicago said Wednesday. "The largest river in our database has a width of around one kilometer [0.6 miles], which is wider than the MS at St. Louis", study author Edwin Kite, from the University of Chicago, told Newsweek.

All this testing is geared towards February 2021, when the helicopter will reach the surface of the Red Planet, firmly nestled under the belly of the Mars 2020 rover.

The researchers now think that laster in the history of Mars than previously considered, Mars has been flowed by a vast river network that persisted on the Red Planet for several billions of years. "Indeed, even on ancient Mars, when it was wet enough for rivers some of the time, the rest of the data looks like Mars was extremely cold and dry most of the time", Kite said. In mid-2018, research carried out in partnership with the Italian Space Agency revealed the presence of water under Mar's south polar ice caps. There were hundreds of these runoffs across the planet, particularly since Martian rivers are known to be much bigger than the ones on Earth. Maya Wei-Haas at National Geographic reports scientists had thought that even when Mars had a more substantial atmosphere, liquid water was still a tough proposition on the planet.

They may also have persisted until less than one billion years ago, the evidence suggests.

It's possible that either volcanism, a strong magnetic field that protected the atmosphere or the unique composition of its atmosphere allowed Mars to support liquid H2O longer than hypothesized.

Satellite images and data from Nasa's Curiosity rover indicate that numerous rivers were twice as wide as those on Earth.

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Kite said, "The results provide guidance for those trying to reconstruct the Martian climate".

The rivers show signs of shortening over time, but they still had strong flows until the tail end of the wet period, when the climate completely dried up. "We have seen the same mechanisms in the North African Sahara and in the Arabian Peninsula, and it helped us explore the same mechanism on Mars", said Abotalib Z. Abotalib, the paper's first author.

"The rivers get shorter, hundreds of kilometres rather than thousands, but discharge is still strong".

Published in Science Advances, those trying to reconstruct the Martian climate will be able to use the data - although it may complicate their models.

"Our work answers some existing questions but raises a new one".

"Gearing up for that first flight on Mars, we have logged over 75 minutes of flying time with an engineering model, which was a close approximation of our helicopter", said MiMi Aung, project manager for the Mars Helicopter at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

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