Mars had the deepest and fastest rivers in the Solar System

The Perseverance rover is currently exploring the Martian Jezero crater as part of its mission to find evidence of ancient life on Mars. The history of water on the Red Planet is key to the search for life. Scientists believe that Mars has lost water about 4 million years ago. And now the rover found evidence that the planet once had one of the deepest and fastest rivers discovered on the planet. 

NASA’s Perseverance rover made this mosaic of the hill, nicknamed Pinestand. Scientists believed that the high sedimentary layers stacked on top of each other could have been formed by a deep, fast-flowing river. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

The Mastcam-Z instrument on board the rover took a series of hundreds of images that were glued into a panoramic mosaic showing a landscape called Pinestand. In the image you can see many layers of sedimentary rocks left by the ancient river. The structure of sedimentary rocks indicated that the river that flowed here millions of years ago was fast and very deep. 

“Those indicate a high-energy river that’s truckin’ and carrying a lot of debris. The more powerful the flow of water, the more easily it’s able to move larger pieces of material. It’s been a delight to look at rocks on another planet and see processes that are so familiar,” said Libby Ives from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Scientists believe that these bands of rocks may have been formed by a very fast, deep river — the first evidence of its kind has been found on Mars. NASA’s Perseverance rover captured this scene at a location called “Skrinkle Haven” using a Mastcam-Z camera between February 28 and March 9, 2023. Authorship: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

Evidence that a river once flowed here can also be seen in this mosaic of neighboring rocks, which have a striped structure. “The wind has acted like a scalpel that has cut the tops off these deposits. We do see deposits like this on Earth, but they’re never as well exposed as they are here on Mars. Earth is covered in vegetation that hides these layers,” explains Perseverance science team Michael Lamb from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

These images were taken when Perseverance was exploring a section of the crater that was the site of an ancient river delta. This feature is one of the reasons why Jezero is such an interesting place to explore, as it is a promising place to search for evidence of life.

“What’s exciting here is we’ve entered a new phase of Jezero’s history. And it’s the first time we’re seeing environments like this on Mars. We’re thinking about rivers on a different scale than we have before,” said Katie Stack Morgan, deputy scientific director of the Perseverance project from JPL.

Earlier we reported how Perseverance noticed ominous signs of an approaching cataclysm on Mars.

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