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5 Amazing New Discoveries About Mars

Newsweek logo Newsweek 12/5/2021 Amancay Tapia
In this illustration made available by NASA, the Perseverance rover casts off its spacecraft's cruise stage, minutes before entering the Martian atmosphere. © NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP In this illustration made available by NASA, the Perseverance rover casts off its spacecraft's cruise stage, minutes before entering the Martian atmosphere.

NASA hopes to get astronauts living on Mars by 2030. Before then rovers have been exploring the red planet and uncovering some of its secrets.

They include NASA's Perseverance mission, seeking signs of ancient microbial life, and Curiosity, studying the deep interior of Mars.

Here are seven intriguing discoveries about Mars to have been found in recent years.

1. Mars' Lost Lake and River Delta

This image shows the remains of an ancient delta in Mars' Jezero Crater, which NASA's Perseverance Mars rover will explore for signs of fossilized microbial life. The image was taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera aboard the ESA (European Space Agency) Mars Express orbiter. The European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, operates the ESA mission. The High Resolution Stereo Camera was developed by a group with leadership at the Freie Universitat Berlin. ESA/DLR/FU-Berlin/NASA © ESA/DLR/FU-Berlin/NASA This image shows the remains of an ancient delta in Mars' Jezero Crater, which NASA's Perseverance Mars rover will explore for signs of fossilized microbial life. The image was taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera aboard the ESA (European Space Agency) Mars Express orbiter. The European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, operates the ESA mission. The High Resolution Stereo Camera was developed by a group with leadership at the Freie Universitat Berlin. ESA/DLR/FU-Berlin/NASA

Scientists have had proof since 2013 that water once flowed on Mars, when NASA's Curiosity rover found smooth, rounded pebbles—like those seen in Earth's rivers—on the Martian surface.

More recently, it was discovered the Jezero crater area was once flooded with water and was home to an ancient river delta.

A 2021 paper on NASA's Perseverance Mars rover mission revealed more details about Jezero's watery past.

The rover's images showed "steep slopes called escarpments, or scarps in the delta, which formed from sediment accumulating at the mouth of an ancient river that long ago fed the crater's lake," NASA noted.

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Discussing the research, Nicolas Mangold, a Perseverance scientist and lead author of the paper, called the discovery a "key observation that enables us...to confirm the presence of a lake and river delta at Jezero."

2. Marsquakes

This view from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows an outcrop with finely layered rocks within the "Murray Buttes" region on lower Mount Sharp. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS © NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS This view from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows an outcrop with finely layered rocks within the "Murray Buttes" region on lower Mount Sharp. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

In July 2021, Scientists discovered new detail about Mars' makeup thanks to NASA's Insight probe.

The probe, which landed on Mars in 2018, has a seismometer that can sense vibrations underneath the ground. And as a result, was able to take the first recording of a Marsquake.

From Insight's data, researchers determined that Mars' crust could be 12 miles to 23 miles. Earth, which is nearly twice the size of Mars, has a crust ranging from a few miles to more than 45 miles.

According to NASA the three papers based on the seismometer's data published in Science, "provided details on the depth and composition of Mars' crust, mantle, and core, including confirmation that the planet's center is molten. Earth's outer core is molten, while its inner core is solid; scientists will continue to use InSight's data to determine whether the same holds true for Mars."

Scientists now think Mars' core is molten, but are yet to determine whether Mars has a solid inner core like Earth's.

3. Volcanic Super Eruptions

Scientists recently found evidence for thousands of "super eruptions," the most violent volcanic explosions known.

To do so, they studied the topography and mineral composition of a portion of the Arabia Terra region in Mars' northern hemisphere.

A paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters in July 2021 paints a vivid picture:

"Spewing water vapor, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide into the air, these explosions tore through the Martian surface over a 500-million-year period about 4 billion years ago."

4. Periods of Persistent Water

Martian rock samples are providing clues about where groundwater—potentially conducive to microbial life—may have once been found on Mars for long stretches.

NASA's Perseverance rover collected its first samples, from the Jezero crater, in early September and the results astounded many scientists.

"It looks like our first rocks reveal a potentially habitable sustained environment," said Ken Farley of Caltech, project scientist for the mission, later that month "It's a big deal that the water was there a long time," he added.

5. Regional Dust Storms Dry Out Mars

A Mars dust tower stands out NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS © NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS A Mars dust tower stands out NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Regional dust storms "play a huge role in drying out" Mars, NASA announced in August 2021.

Scientists think Mars contained much more water billions of years ago, but are less sure about the reason for the water escaping.

Using three spacecraft, however, scientists discovered one reason: the storms warm up higher altitudes of the cold atmosphere.

"In the higher reaches of Mars, where the atmosphere is sparse, water molecules are left vulnerable to ultraviolet radiation, which breaks them up into their lighter components of hydrogen and oxygen," NASA explained

"Hydrogen, which is the lightest element, is easily lost to space, with oxygen either escaping or settling back to the surface."

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