A new “water map” of Mars could offer new clues about the planet’s past — and possible landing sites for the future.
Researchers from the European Space Agency (ESA) spent ten years developing the map based on data collected by two Mars orbiters.
They found hundreds of thousands of areas of watery mineral deposits, created by interactions between rock and water.
Because the minerals still contain water molecules, they can show locations where we can extract water for human bases on the planet.
These outcrops could also be ideal locations to investigate whether life ever started on Mars.
The map could represent a paradigm shift in our understanding of Mars’ history.
“This work has now shown that when you study the ancient sites in detail, not seeing these minerals is actually the oddity,” John Carter of the Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale in Paris said in a statement.
The map uses data from two complementary tools: the CRISM spectrometer on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the OMEGA instrument on ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft.
The researchers combined the data sets to determine: the locations and amounts of aqueous minerals.
They will now examine the data for signs that water was globally persistent or only present during short and intense periods. They will also look for evidence that Mars once had a climate in which life was possible.
The team also hopes to give Mars mission planners top candidates for landing sites.
Humanity may be one small step closer to colonizing the red planet.