Space

January 21, 2013

Martian crater once may have held groundwater-fed lake

nasa-mars-waterA NASA spacecraft is providing new evidence of a wet underground environment on Mars that adds to an increasingly complex picture of the Red Planet’s early evolution.

The new information comes from researchers analyzing spectrometer data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which looked down on the floor of McLaughlin Crater. The Martian crater is 57 miles (92 kilometers) in diameter and 1.4 miles (2.2 kilometers) deep. McLaughlin’s depth apparently once allowed underground water, which otherwise would have stayed hidden, to flow into the crater’s interior.

Layered, flat rocks at the bottom of the crater contain carbonate and clay minerals that form in the presence of water. McLaughlin lacks large inflow channels, and small channels originating within the crater wall end near a level that could have marked the surface of a lake.

Together, these new observations suggest the formation of the carbonates and clay in a groundwater-fed lake within the closed basin of the crater. Some researchers propose the crater interior catching the water and the underground zone contributing the water could have been wet environments and potential habitats. The findings are published in Sunday’s online edition of Nature Geoscience.

“Taken together, the observations in McLaughlin Crater provide the best evidence for carbonate forming within a lake environment instead of being washed into a crater from outside,” said Joseph Michalski, lead author of the paper, which has five co-authors. Michalski also is affiliated with the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz., and London’s Natural History Museum.

Michalski and his co-authors used the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) on MRO to check for minerals such as carbonates, which are best preserved under non-acidic conditions.

“The MRO team has made a concerted effort to get highly processed data products out to members of the science community like Dr. Michalski for analysis,” said CRISM Principal Investigator Scott Murchie of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. “New results like this show why that effort is so important.”

Launched in 2005, MRO and its six instruments have provided more high-resolution data about the Red Planet than all other Mars orbiters combined. Data is made available for scientists worldwide to research, analyze and report their findings.

“A number of studies using CRISM data have shown rocks exhumed from the subsurface by meteor impact were altered early in Martian history, most likely by hydrothermal fluids,” Michalski said. “These fluids trapped in the subsurface could have periodically breached the surface in deep basins such as McLaughlin Crater, possibly carrying clues to subsurface habitability.”

McLaughlin Crater sits at the low end of a regional slope several hundreds of miles long on the western side of the Arabia Terra region of Mars. As on Earth, groundwater-fed lakes are expected to occur at low regional elevations. Therefore, this site would be a good candidate for such a process.

“This new report and others are continuing to reveal a more complex Mars than previously appreciated, with at least some areas more likely to reveal signs of ancient life than others,” said MRO project scientist Rich Zurek of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., provided and operates CRISM. JPL manages MRO for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the orbiter.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
Image courtesy of NASA/CXC/DSS/Magellan

NASA’s Chandra Observatory finds cosmic showers halt galaxy growth

Image courtesy of NASA/CXC/DSS/Magellan A study of over 200 galaxy clusters, including Abell 2597 shown here, with NASAís Chandra X-ray Observatory has revealed how an unusual form of cosmic precipitation stifles star formatio...
 
 
Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

NASA spacecraft nears historic dwarf planet arrival

Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA NASA’s Dawn spacecraft took these images of dwarf planet Ceres from about 25,000 miles away Feb. 25, 2015. Ceres appears half in shadow because of the current position o...
 
 

Northrop Grumman’s AstroMesh reflector successfully deploys for NASA’s SMAP satellite

The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory successfully deployed the mesh reflector and boom aboard the Soil Moisture Active Passive spacecraft, a key milestone on its mission to provide global measurements of soil moisture. Launched Jan. 31, SMAP represents the future of Earth Science by helping researchers better understand our planet. SMAP’s unmatched data capabilities are enabled...
 

 
NASA photograph by Brian Tietz

NASA offers space tech grants to early career university faculty

NASA photograph by Brian Tietz Tensegrity research is able to simulate multiple forms of locomotion. In this image, a prototype tensegrity robot reproduces forward crawling motion. NASA’s Space Technology Mission Director...
 
 

NASA releases first global rainfall, snowfall map from new mission

Like a lead violin tuning an orchestra, the GPM Core Observatory – launched one year ago on Feb. 27, 2014, as a collaboration between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency – acts as the standard to unify precipitation measurements from a network of 12 satellites. The result is NASA’s Integrated Multi-satellite Retrievals for GPM...
 
 

New NASA Earth Science Missions expand view of our home planet

Four new NASA Earth-observing missions are collecting data from space with a fifth newly in orbit ñ after the busiest year of NASA Earth science launches in more than a decade. On Feb. 27, 2014, NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launched the Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory into space from Japan. Data from...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>