A new study reveals that the first-ever robotic rover mission to the surface of Mars could have landed on the edges of an ancient inland sea.
This latest analysis of data collected two decades ago suggests that the landing site of the Pathfinder mission rover is part of Mars' outflow channels possibly carved from cataclysmic floods some 3.4 billion years ago.
Way Of The Pathfinder
The Pathfinder mission lasted only nine months from Dec. 4, 1996, to Sept. 27, 1997. The mission's rover, Sojourner, made its landing on the red planet on July 4, 1997, on the Tiu and Ares Valles set at the mouth of a large outflow channel.
The mission achieved its goal and made history for returning more than 2.3 billion pieces of information, thousands of images captured by the lander and the rover, and valuable chemical analysis of rocks and soil on Mars.
The exploration also brought back extensive data detailing significant scientific findings on Mars, including images of fluvial features indicative of extensive flooding in some regions of the planet's surface.
However, discrepancies between orbital images of the gigantic outflows and information from the Pathfinder mission then failed to dispute the possibility that sedimentary debris or lava flows inundated the outflow channels.
The spacecraft Mariner 9 first observed the outflows almost half a century ago.
New Study And Simulation
This new study by scientists from the Planetary Science Institute sparks renewed interest on the possibility that large bodies of water such as seas and oceans once existed on Mars.
Old data from the Pathfinder was reinterpreted using paleohydrological reconstruction and new remodeling. The simulation showed that a basin known as the Simud Interior Basin, which is approximately the same surface area as California, separates the landing site of the Pathfinder rover from the massive outflow channels.
The basin is believed to be sculpted as a result of mega-floods that formed an inland sea on Martian surface. It is similar to Earth's Caspian Sea and stretches to about 155 miles.
Sea On Mars?
"This sea is approximately 250 kilometers upstream from the Pathfinder landing site, an observation that reframes its paleo-geographic setting as part of a marine spillway, which formed a land barrier separating the inland sea and a northern ocean," said Alexis Rodriguez, senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, and main author of the study.
"Unlike on Earth, this sea was likely groundwater fed. If the ancient source aquifers hosted life, the proposed marine sedimentary materials at the NASA Pathfinder landing site might contain a record of that life, a location easily accessible by future missions," Rodriguez added.
Previous data sets and orbital images failed to identify the Simud Interior Basin.
The study is published by the Scientific Reports journal.