Back in 1997, NASA sent their very first rover to Mars, and a new study has focused on the ancient Martian sea that the Pathfinder spacecraft first captured images of 25 years ago.
As Gizmodo reports, at the time of this mission, NASA was completely unaware that the landing site of the Pathfinder was formed by an unknown inland sea which was once a large marine spillover. While this site on Mars is now completely barren and dry, it was once covered with profuse amounts of water, rather than the random debris and lava that scientists originally suggested had been here.
The physical search for water on Mars first commenced after images taken by the Mariner 9 spacecraft in 1971 showed massive channels on Mars that scientists believed were indicative of torrential floods.
To see whether this was indeed the case, NASA sent its Sojourner rover with the Pathfinder to explore Martian terrain. However, what was captured proved disappointing, and it appeared from new images taken by the rover that the floods were actually much shallower than had been thought.
Because of this, other theories about these channels were put forward, including the suggestion that they may have even been carved by lava flows or debris without the need for large volumes of water.
Fast forward to the present, and a new study by Planetary Science Institute Senior Scientist Alexis Rodriguez has demonstrated that this region of Mars is very likely to have once held a sea just 250 kilometers away from where the Pathfinder landed, according to Phys.org.
— Phys.org (@physorg_com) March 15, 2019
As Rodriguez explained, “The basin is covered by sedimentary deposits with a distribution that precisely matches the inferred extent of inundation from potential catastrophic floods, which would have formed an inland sea. This sea is approximately 250 kilometers upstream from the Pathfinder landing site, an observation that reframes its paleo-geographic setting as part of a marine spillway, which formed a land barrier separating the inland sea and a northern ocean.”
Rodriguez further noted that this Martian sea would have created spillovers that eventually formed the terrain explored by the Pathfinder.
“Our simulation shows that the presence of the sea would have attenuated cataclysmic floods, leading to shallow spillovers that reached the Pathfinder landing site and produced the bedforms detected by the spacecraft.”
The ancient sea on Mars has been compared with our own Aral Sea, which also hasn’t produced shoreline terraces.
New research has also indicated that the Martian sea was probably fed by groundwater and that over a period of around a few thousand years it eventually ended up covered by ice as its water swiftly evaporated over a short space in time.
If this sea once possessed life, the landing site of the Pathfinder may hold important clues about it, which makes this location a perfect spot for future missions heading to Mars to explore.
The new study which has suggested that the landing site of NASA’s Pathfinder spacecraft was once a Martian sea has been published in Scientific Reports.