Many Mars exploration circles see Valles Marineris as a “tell-everyone” place, ready for human exploration that could reveal the planet’s history and ability to sustain microbial life.
However, what is the best way to investigate the multifaceted geology in the evidence at this site? Can future crews on the Red Planet dive safely into this massive valley system? And what awaits those who explore a vast area designated as the Grand Canyon of Mars?
Valles Marineris is a huge feature. A system of canyons that cut through the surface of Mars 2,500 miles (4,000 km) in length, covering about one-fifth of the circumference of Mars. At some points, this enormous chasm is 125 miles (200 km) across. In certain places, the valley floor is as deep as 5 miles (8 km).
Bottom line: This is much deeper than Earth’s Grand Canyon.
Related: Glaciers on Mars may have helped carve the ‘Grand Canyon’ of the Red Planet
To encourage in situ human studies of Valles Marineris, some scholars have identified and named an area known as the “Noctic Landing” site. Its strategic location allows for the shortest possible surface excursions to Mars’ volcanic plateau Tharsis as well as Valles Marineris – that major feature and region on the Red Planet that reveals the longest record of Mars’ geology and evolution over time.
Tharsis is the region of Mars that has had the longest and most extensive volcanic history, and may still be volcanically active. Some of the smallest lava flows on Mars have been identified on the western flanks of Tharsis Bulge.
Moreover, these flows fall within the driving range for future compact roving traversal.
Top priority sciences
“I think when it comes to planning human missions to Mars, we may be past the point of only thinking about theoretical scientific goals in non-location specific ways,” said Pascal Lee, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California. SETI Institute.
Lee is president of the Mars Institute, an international, nongovernmental, and nonprofit research organization dedicated to advancing the scientific study, exploration, and public understanding of Mars. He is also the director of NASA’s Haughton-Mars Project, an international, interdisciplinary field research project focused on analog studies of Mars at the Haughton impact crater site on Devon Island in the high Arctic.
Lee told Space.com: We can and must now search for human landing sites where most if not all of our high-priority science goals can be met. This human landing area likely offers multiple ways to extract water locally — something a robotic reconnaissance mission can ascertain — and where it makes sense to establish a base for long-term exploration, he said.
at the crossroads
Lee is excited that such a site called Noctis Landing is a ostensibly flat transition zone between Noctis Labyrinthus (Latin for “night maze”) and Valles Marineris.
Not only does Noctis Landing offer a large number and wide range of areas of interest for short-term exploration, it is also strategically located at the crossroads between Tharsis and Valles Marineris, which are essential for long-term exploration. The area is characterized by a maze-like system of deep valleys with steep walls.
“If you head east or south from Noctis Landing, you go deeper into Valles Marineris and you can look for signs of past life,” he told me. “If you head west or north from Noctis, you’re climbing giant volcanoes on Mars with many caves, and you can search for surviving life.”
No rock climbing required
The result is that Noctis Landing is unique, as it lies at the literal intersection of searching for signs of past and present life on Mars.
As for exploring Valles Marineris, the main advantage of Noctis Landing is that you can access all the rock layers in the valley without having to resort to rock climbing, Lee said.
“Thanks to the giant Oudemans impact crater near Noctis Landing, giant slabs of Valles Marineris canyon walls have been laid flat there, ready to explore one rocky layer at a time, just by driving along the canyon floor,” Lee added. .
Late last year, Igor Mitrofanov of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, Russia reported that a large amount of hidden water was observed in the central part of Mars’ dramatic valley system, Valis Marineris.
The observation came via the European Space Agency’s Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). Mitrofanov is the Principal Investigator of TGO’s Micro-Resolution Neutron Detection Telescope (FREND). This tool maps hydrogen – a measure of water content – in the top meter of Martian soil.
Mitrofanov and his colleagues found evidence of unusually high amounts of hydrogen in the core of Valles Marineris on Mars.
An unclear combination of circumstances
“Using TGO, we can look down a meter below this layer of dirt and see what’s really going on beneath the surface of Mars — and most importantly, identify water-rich ‘oases’ that could not be detected with previous instruments,” Mitrofanov said. (Opens in a new tab) In a statement issued by the European Space Agency.
“Assuming that the hydrogen we see is bound to water molecules, 40% of the near-surface material in this region appears to be water,” Mitrofanov said.
As the ESA statement explains, the discovery indicates that “a special mixture of conditions as yet not clear must have existed in Valles Marineris to conserve water – or it is being replenished in some way.”
Mitrofanov and his research colleagues published their work (Opens in a new tab) In the March 2022 issue of Icarus magazine, it states: “Such ice is not only an interesting material for searching for frozen proto-life fragments or complex organic molecules from the early Martian era, but also an indispensable natural resource for future Mars exploration that is easy to exploit” .
NASA’s Lee confirmed the intriguing discovery of frequent haze in Valles Marineris. “While the average Martian atmosphere is generally regarded as having too little water vapor to be worth compressing and exploiting, the presence of icy haze, the most likely explanation for the fog banks that frequently fill Valles Marineris, suggests that the Martian atmosphere could To be saturated locally in water may reach quantities worthy of extraction.
The presence of fog at Valles Marineris also indicates that at least part of the hydrogen discovered by Mitrofanov and his companions is likely to be in the form of H2O, and not just water from the minerals, Lee told me.
take in the air
Abigail Freeman, research scientist and deputy project scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that the clearance of Valles Marineris of its science property could be enhanced by air vehicles.
This view is clearly supported by the airborne success of NASA’s Mars Innovation helicopter at Jezero Crater.
“We can begin to imagine all kinds of possibilities for future Mars exploration using atmospheric assets,” Freeman told Space.com. “One of the benefits of exploring Mars from the air is the ability to travel much longer distances through terrain that would be too treacherous for rovers.”
Frieman said Valles Marineris is one example of a site that might really benefit from helicopter exploration. “This platform could enable us to explore sections of the really ancient crust exposed in the valley walls, the very steep sedimentary deposits in the center of the valley, and even the mysterious repeating slope line that occurs on the steep cliffs all over Valles Marineris and can be formed by very salty liquid water.”
Exploring these features, Fryman added, “will help us answer questions about the entire history of Mars, from the first formation to the present day, and provide unprecedented insight into the mechanisms affecting the climate and habitability of Mars, as well as the rocky worlds outside our solar system.”
Follow us on Twitter Tweet embed (Opens in a new tab) or on Facebook (Opens in a new tab).
#astronauts #explore #Grand #Canyon #Mars #Valles #Marineris