China's rover makes surprising discovery of water at Mars landing site

BEIJING (Reuters) - Hydrated minerals discovered by the Chinese robotic rover on Mars in a vast basin believed to be the site of an ancient ocean suggest water was present on the planet's surface for longer than previously thought, Chinese scientists said.

According to an analysis of data returned by the rover, Zhurong, signs of water were detected in analyzed minerals from only 700 million years ago, the scientists said in a paper published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

The rover's primary mission, which lasted three months, was to search for signs of ancient life. He investigated minerals, the environment, and the distribution of water and ice in the plain, which is part of the largest impact basin in the northern lowlands of Mars. The rover continues to explore its landing site and sends information back to Tianwen-1 orbiting the planet.

Data from the rover's initial study of the basin suggests that there was water in the Utopia Planitia basin, at a time when many scientists believed that Mars was dry and cold.

A study detailing the findings published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

fueling exploration

This discovery surprised the researchers because previous orbiter observations found no traces of hydrated minerals at the landing site. That's why the exploration with the rover was key, Yang said.

Utopia Planitia has been of interest to scientists because some speculate that the region once hosted an ocean.

"Thus, the discovery of hydrated minerals (has) significant clues to the geological history, the water history of the region and the evolution of the climate of Mars," Yang said.

Yang said he hopes the rover can analyze layers of a crater in the plain to find new information about the history of water in the region.

The findings also suggest there could be "considerable stores" of water in hydrated minerals or even subterranean ice, which future human explorers could use during manned missions to Mars.

"One of the most important resources for human explorers is water," Yang said. "Hydrated minerals, which contain structural water, and subterranean ice can be used as an important water resource on Mars"

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