Guest "Field Geology rocks!" by David Middleton
The field geology at the Martian equator points to an ancient mega-flood
Posted by Blaine Friedlander | 18th November 2020
Floods of unimaginable proportions washed through Gale Crater on Mars' equator about 4 billion years ago – a finding that suggests the possibility that life may have existed there. This comes from data collected by NASA's Curiosity rover and analyzed in a joint project by scientists from Jackson State University, Cornell, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Hawaii.
The study "Deposits of Giant Floods in Storm Crater and Their Effects on the Climate of Early Mars" was published in Nature Scientific Reports on November 5th.
"We identified mega-floods for the first time from detailed sedimentological data observed by the Curiosity rover," said co-author Alberto G. Fairén, a gastro biologist at the College of Arts and Sciences. "Deposits left by mega-tides have not yet been identified with orbiter data."
The most likely cause of the Martian Flood was the melting of the ice from heat generated by a large impact that released carbon dioxide and methane from the planet's frozen reservoirs. The water vapor and the release of gases together created a brief period of warm and wet conditions on the red planet.
The Curiosity Rover science team has already determined that the Gale Crater once had persistent lakes and creeks in ancient times. These long-lived bodies of water are good indicators that the crater, as well as the Mount Sharp it contains, were able to support microbial life.
"Early Mars was an extremely active planet from a geological point of view," said Fairén. "The planet had the conditions to support the presence of liquid water on the surface – and on earth, where there is water, there is life.
"Mars was a habitable planet that early," he said. “Was it inhabited? That's a question the next Rover Perseverance … can answer. "
Perseverance, which was launched from Cape Canaveral on July 30, is expected to reach Mars on February 18, 2021.
“This composite false color image of Mount Sharp in Gale Crater on Mars shows geologists a changing planetary environment. The sky is not blue on Mars, but the image is similar to Earth, so scientists can distinguish stratification layers. NASA / JPL / Provided ”(Cornell Chronicle)
The full text of the award-winning paper is available:
Heydari, E., Schroeder, J.F., Calef, F.J. et al. Deposits from huge floods in Gale crater and their effects on the climate of early Mars. Sci Rep 10, 19099 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-75665-7
As cool as the geology of Gale Crater was, Jezero Crater promises to be even cooler. Endurance is about two-thirds of the way there and will be an even more capable field geologist than Curiosity.
Mars Perseverance Rover Scientific Instruments. (NASA)
Mastcam-Z has powerful cameras that can enlarge, focus and record 3D color images and videos at high speed for detailed examination of distant objects.
MEDA, the Mars ambient dynamics analyzer, is a weather station that measures wind speed and direction, temperature and humidity, as well as the size and amount of dust particles in the Martian atmosphere.
MOXIE, the In Situ Mars Oxygen Resource Use Experiment, will demonstrate technologies for generating oxygen from the Martian atmosphere for propellants and for breathing air for future human explorers.
PIXL, the planetary instrument for X-ray lithochemistry, is an X-ray spectrometer that can be used to identify chemical composition on a small scale. This allows scientists to search for organic chemicals that may be microbially living on Mars.
RIMFAX, the radar imager for the Mars underground experiment, is a ground penetrating radar system that examines the geology under the rover to a depth of ten meters. RIMFAX detects ice, water and brine.
SHERLOC, the instrument for scanning habitable environments with Raman spectroscopy and luminescence for organics and chemicals, uses spectrometers, a laser and a camera to look for organic chemicals and minerals that are signs of past microbial life in a humid environment can.
SuperCam will examine rocks and soils with a camera, laser, and spectrometers to find organic chemicals from possible past life on Mars. It can focus on targets as small as a grain of sand from up to seven meters away.
Ingenuity UAV Helicopter: In addition to this sophisticated suite of instruments, Perseverance carries the small UAV helicopter called Ingenuity, which is attached to the belly of the rover. It is used for multiple flights up to 10 meters in height and up to 300 meters away from the rover to search for scientific targets and driving routes.