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Current Affairs

Curiosity rover data hints at megafloods on Mars

Date: 24 November 2020 Tags: Space

Issue

Giant flash floods once flowed through Gale Crater on Mars’ equator around four billion years ago, according to a study using data from curiosity rover.

 

Background

The research found that gigantic flash floods were likely started by the heat of a meteoritic impact that unleashed the ice stored on the Martian surface.

 

Details

  • Scientists identified megafloods for the first time using detailed sedimentological data observed by the rover Curiosity.

  • According to the scientists, geological features including the work of water and wind have been frozen in time on Mars for about four billion years. These features convey processes that shaped the surface of both the Earth and the Mars in the past.

  • This case includes the occurrence of giant wave-shaped features in sedimentary layers of Gale crater, often called “megaripples” or “antidunes”.

  • The antidunes indicate flowing megafloods at the bottom of Mars’ Gale Crater about four billion years ago, which are identical to the features formed by melting ice on Earth.

 

Reason for floods

  • The most likely cause of the Mars flooding was the melting of ice from heat generated by a large impact, which released carbon dioxide and methane from the planet’s frozen reservoirs.

  • The water vapour and release of gases combined to produce a short period of warm and wet conditions on Mars.

  • They believe the condensation may have formed water vapour clouds, which in turn likely created torrential rain.

  • This water may have entered Gale Crater, and combined with water coming down from Mount Sharp in Gale Crater to produce gigantic flash floods.

 

Observations

The researchers believe these long-lived bodies of water are good indicators that the crater, as well as Mount Sharp, was capable of supporting microbial life.

 

Curiosity rover

  • Curiosity is a  Mars rover designed to explore the Gale crater on Mars as part of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission.

  • The rover's goals include an investigation of the Martian climate and geology, assessment of whether the selected field site inside Gale has ever offered environmental conditions favourable for microbial life (including investigation of the role of water), and planetary habitability studies in preparation for human exploration.