New York: Researchers have discovered evidence of an ancient lake on Mars that likely represents some of the last potentially habitable surface water ever to exist on the red planet.
Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder, examined an 18-square-mile chloride salt deposit in the planet’s Meridiani region near the Mars Opportunity rover’s landing site.
Large-scale salt deposits are considered to be evidence of evaporated bodies of water.
“This was a long-lived lake, and we were able to put a very good time boundary on its maximum age,” said Brian Hynek, a research associate at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at CU-Boulder and lead author of the study.
“We can be pretty certain that this is one of the last instances of a sizeable lake on Mars,” Hynek emphsised.
Digital terrain mapping and mineralogical analysis of the features surrounding the deposit indicate that this one-time lake bed is no older than 3.6 billion years old, well after the time period when Mars is thought to have been warm enough to sustain large amounts of surface water planet-wide.
Planetary scientists believe that the solar system was formed approximately 4.6 billion years ago.
Based on the extent and thickness of the salt, the researchers estimate that the lake was only about eight percent as salty as the Earth’s oceans and therefore may have been hospitable to microbial life.
“By salinity alone, it certainly seems as though this lake would have been habitable throughout much of its existence,” Hynek dded.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday criticized NASA for aiming to put astronauts back on the moon by 2024 and urged the space agency to focus instead on “much bigger” initiatives like going to Mars, undercutting his previous support for the lunar initiative.
“For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon – We did that 50 years ago,” the president wrote on Twitter. “They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part), Defense and Science!”
Trump’s statement, tweeted from Air Force One as he returned from Europe, appeared at odds with his administration’s recent push to return humans to the lunar surface by 2024 “by any means necessary,” five years sooner than the previous goal of 2028.
NASA plans to build a space outpost in lunar orbit that can relay astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024, part of a broader initiative to use the moon as a staging ground for eventual missions to Mars. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Trump was only reaffirming NASA’s space plan.
“As @POTUS said, @NASA is using the Moon to send humans to Mars!” he said on Friday in a tweet referring to the president of the United States.
The accelerated timetable to land humans on the moon by 2024 ran into early trouble when the Trump administration asked a skeptical Congress in May to increase NASA’s 2020 budget proposal by $1.6 billion as a “down payment” to accommodate the accelerated goal.
The accelerated timetable for going to the moon was a key recommendation in March of the new National Space Council led by Vice President Mike Pence.
‘Sustainable human presence’
NASA’s website on Friday said the Artemis program would send “the first woman and the next man to the Moon by 2024 and develop a sustainable human presence on the Moon by 2028.” The program takes its name from the twin sister of Apollo and the goddess of the moon in Greek mythology.
NASA’s Apollo program landed the first men on the moon 50 years ago on July 20. The NASA website also provided details on the space agency’s plans for making the moon a jumping-off point for future missions to Mars and a place to test equipment and technology for other forays out into the solar system.
Private companies are also joining the race to the moon. Billionaire entrepreneur Jeff Bezos last month unveiled a mock-up of a lunar lander being built by his Blue Origin rocket company and touted his moon goals as part of a strategy aimed at capitalizing on the Trump administration’s push to establish a lunar outpost in just five years. (VOA)