First Mars Perseverance Rover underground radar images reveal some surprises

Aerial photo of the remains of a delta where a water source once fed an ancient lake at the Jezero crater. NASA’s Perseverance Rover is currently exploring the area. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

After a tempting wait of a year and a half since the Mars Perseverance Rover landed on our nearest planetary neighbor, new data is coming in and bringing with it some surprises.

The rover, which is about the size of a car and carries seven scientific instruments, probed Mars’ 30-mile-wide Jezero Crater, once the site of a lake and an ideal place to search for evidence of the ancient life and information about the geological and climatic past of the planet.

In an article published today in the journal Scientists progress, a research team led by UCLA and the University of Oslo reveals that the rock layers beneath the crater floor, observed by the rover’s ground-penetrating radar instrument, are tilted in unexpected ways. The slopes, thicknesses and shapes of the inclined sections suggest that they were either formed by slow cooling of lava or deposited as sediment in the ancient lake.

Perseverance is currently exploring a delta on the western rim of the crater, where a river once fed the lake, leaving behind a large deposit of dirt and rocks that it picked up along its course. As the rover collects more data, researchers hope to unravel the complex history of this part of the Red Planet.

“We were quite surprised to find rocks stacked at an inclined angle,” said David Paige, professor of Earth, planetary and space sciences at UCLA and one of the principal investigators of the Radar Imager. for Mars Subsurface Experiment, or RIMFAX. “We expected to see horizontal rocks on the crater floor. The fact that they are tilted like this requires a more complex geological history. They could have formed when molten rock rose towards the surface, or , alternatively, they could represent an ancient delta deposit buried in the crater floor.”

First Mars Perseverance Rover underground radar images reveal some surprises

Rendering of Perseverance, whose RIMFAX technology explores what lies beneath the Martian surface. Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech/FFI

Paige said most of the evidence collected by the rover so far points to an igneous or molten origin, but based on RIMFAX data, he and the team can’t yet say for sure how the tilted layers formed. . RIMFAX obtains a picture of underground features by sending bursts of radar waves below the surface, which are reflected from rock layers and other obstacles. The shapes, densities, thicknesses, angles and compositions of objects underground affect how radar waves bounce around, creating a visual image of what lies beneath.

During Perseverance’s initial 3-kilometre traverse, the instrument obtained a continuous radar image that reveals electromagnetic properties and bedrock stratigraphy – the arrangement of rock layers – from Jezero’s floor to depths of 15 meters, or about 49 feet. The image reveals the presence of ubiquitous layered rock strata, including those that dip up to 15 degrees. To complicate the mystery, within these tilted areas are highly reflective rock layers that actually tilt in multiple directions.

“RIMFAX gives us a view of Mars’ stratigraphy similar to what you might see on Earth from highways, where large stacks of rock layers are sometimes visible on the mountainside as you pass by,” Paige explained. “Before Perseverance landed, there were many hypotheses about the exact nature and origin of the crater floor materials. We have now been able to narrow the range of possibilities, but the data we have acquired so far present suggest that the story of the crater floor may be a bit more complicated than expected.”

The data collected by RIMFAX will provide valuable context to the rock samples Perseverance collects, which will eventually be brought back to Earth.

“RIMFAX is giving us the backstory of the samples we’re going to analyze. It’s exciting that the rover instruments are producing data and we’re starting to learn, but there’s a lot more to come,” Paige said. “We landed on the crater floor, but now we’re rolling over the actual delta, which is the mission’s primary target. This is just the beginning of what we hope to know about Mars soon.”

The paper, “Ground Penetrating Radar Observations of Subterranean Structures in the Floor of Jezero Crater, Mars,” is one of three concurrently published papers discussing some of the earliest data from Perseverance.


New research sheds light on when Mars may have had water


More information:
Svein-Erik Hamran et al, Ground Penetrating Radar Observations of Subterranean Structures in the Jezero Crater Floor, Mars, Scientists progress (2022). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abp8564

Provided by University of California, Los Angeles

Quote: First Mars Perseverance Rover underground radar images reveal some surprises (2022, August 25) Retrieved August 27, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-08-underground-radar-images-mars-perseverance.html

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First Mars Perseverance Rover underground radar images reveal some surprises

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