The NASA rover Perseverance has taken photos of a landscape on Mars that may show traces of a once “raging river”. The US space agency has now announced this and explained that such evidence was found for the first time on the red planet. On the edge of today’s Jezero crater, there could have been rivers that were of a completely different caliber than those whose remains Curiosity found.
There was therefore a veritable network of rivers that led into the crater and also transported larger objects. There have already been indications of this. The main purpose of exploring these long-lost landscapes is to help answer the question of whether life once existed there.
Structures known from Earth
Libby Ives from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, among others, analyzed the recordings. She has previously studied rivers on Earth and calls it “a pleasure” to look at rocks on a planet that show traces of the same processes that are so familiar. After months of analysis, she’s confident she can spot such marks on a series of curving bands of layered rock that Perseverance photographed. In the meantime, one is convinced that it is the remains of a once raging torrent. It is still being debated whether it tends to meander – like the mighty Mississippi – or whether it has many ramifications.
The photographed curved layers could therefore be due to riverbanks that once shifted. Wind may have clipped them down to their present height. A second photo shows another spot that may have been formed by a river. The recognizable, isolated hill called “Pinestand” has layers of sediment, some of which bend up to 20 m high. For rivers on Earth, that would be “abnormally high,” Ives admits. But there is still debate about what can be seen here. Radar recordings are also evaluated, with which Perseverance can see below the surface.
Perseverance landed on Mars in February 2021. The rover is to search for traces of possible life in a former delta. That’s where he found the clues to the river system. Perseverance is accompanied by the small helicopter Ingenuity. It should actually only prove that motorized aircraft can take off from Mars at all. He mastered this with flying colors and has not yet been deactivated as a result.