Images taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft show huge layers of sediment in the Hellas Impact Crater, formed more than 3.7 billion years ago.
A team at Utrecht University, in the Netherlands, and the London’s Natural History Museum, in the UK, revealed unprecedented details of the ancient rivers on Mars. The study was the result of an analysis of images taken by NASA’s High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), which is onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, launched in 2005.
The researchers examined images of the interior of the Hellas Impact Crater, located in the southern hemisphere of the Red Planet. The images revealed a pile of rocks 200 meters thick on the walls of a cliff located inside the crater.
Studying these sediments, the team found that the cliff was formed by running water, probably rivers, which flowed through the region 3.7 billion years ago. “We’ve never seen evidence for such ancient, widespread rivers on Mars in this much detail before,” said Dr. Joel Davis, one of the researchers, in a statement. “This is one more piece of the puzzle in the search for ancient life on Mars, providing novel insight into just how much water occupied these ancient landscapes.”
Dr. Davis explains that the rivers that formed these sediments probably remained active hundreds of thousands of years. According to him, this discovery reaffirms the importance of researching sedimentary rocks from that period if we want to find evidence of life as we know it on Mars.
According to scientists, here on Earth, sedimentary rocks have been used by geologists for generations to study what conditions were like on our planet millions of years ago. “Now we have the technology to extend this methodology to another terrestrial planet,” noted William McMahon, co-author of the article. “Mars hosts an ancient sedimentary rock record that extends even further back in time than our own.”