A new study based on the Chinese Zhurong rover's data revealed that Mars might have had liquid water running on its surface for roughly 700 million years. The Zhurong rover is part of the Tianwen-1 mission that landed in southern Utopia Planitia on Mars in May 2021, operating on the surface of Mars for 342 Martian days.
While evidence of liquid water on surface of Mars was found before too about 3 billion years ago it was believed that the planet lost much of its water when its Amazonian period began, which continues till today.
Conducted by Scientists from the National Space Science Center (NSSC) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the study was carried out with the help of three different instruments on Zhurong: the laser-induced breakdown spectrometer (MarSCoDe), the telescopic microimaging camera, and the short-wave infrared spectrometer. Using these instruments further simplified and smoothened the data analysis process.
Yang Liu, a researcher at the NSSC and colleagues who conducted the study, explained that these instruments examined minerals that indicated the existence of a considerable amount of liquid water on the surface of the Red Planet about 700 million years ago, well into the Amazonian age which was previously assumed to be devoid of water, as reported by Space.com
"This is a very interesting result," says Eva Scheller, a planetary scientist at the California Institute of Technology who wasn't involved in this research. "We have very few recorded evidences of 'young' liquid water systems on Mars. And for the ones we have, they were usually in the form of salt minerals."
Liu and his team used the data Zhurong had collected since its first 92 Martian days, or sols, after landing in Utopia Planitia and were successful in identifying "hydrated sulfate/silica materials on the Amazonian terrain at the landing site," as mentioned in their published work.
The team explained, these hydrated minerals are linked with bright-toned rocks, believed to be duricrust evolved 'locally'. The lithified duricrusts indicate that the formation with the considerable liquid water emanated from either the rise of groundwater level or from the subsurface ice melting.
"In situ evidence for aqueous activities identified at Zhurong's landing site indicates a more active Amazonian hydrosphere for Mars than previously thought," the team wrote.
According to NE Now, the results of the study conducted have prompted researchers to theorize that the Red Planet might have also experienced through climatic oscillations, changing from wet to warm, and dry to cold, rather than experiencing a single dramatic shift.
"The Zhurong landing site (and the northern lowlands) may contain a considerable amount of accessible water in the form of hydrated minerals and possibly ground ice for in situ resource utilization for future human Mars exploration," the team said.
Liu states that this discovery of hydrated minerals will have a significant impact on the geological history of the site where the liquid was found as well as on Mars' climate evolution. The team believes that the data acquired from the study will further come in handy when future missions are organized to locate more potential sources of liquid water on the planet.
The study titled, Zhurong Reveals Recent Aqueous Activities in Utopia Planitia, Mars were published in the journal Science Advances on May 11.