Mars’s surface is covered in mountains, valleys, and other geological foundations that have long captured the interest of scientists and space enthusiasts. Recently, researchers at Northern Arizona University used these features to try to understand more about this red planet’s past.

Because it is challenging to collect measurements on the ground on Mars, most research has to be done by satellite. Satellites can take temperature measurements, which allow the researchers to measure a property called thermal inertia. Thermal inertia describes how quickly it takes a certain material to heat up or cool down in response to a change in the surrounding temperature. A sandy structure, for example, would have less thermal inertia and thus change temperature more quickly than a rocky structure would.

Using this data, they measured the temperature of layered rock structures in a part of Mars called Arabia Terra that may have been formed in the presence of water long ago. They found that these structures had less thermal inertia than expected, indicating that they may have only been exposed to water, which would have created sediments with higher thermal inertia, for a brief period of time. The researchers are interested in continuing to study what the circumstances of ancient water in the area may have been. They speculate that it might have been caused by floods or groundwater that quickly drained, but these possibilities are currently unexplored and await further research.

Managing Correspondent: Emily Kerr

Popular Press Source: Brief presence of water in Arabia Terra on Mars

Scientific Article: A fragile record of fleeting water on Mars

Image Credit: Arabia Terra on Mars ESA227928 by European Space Agency


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