Animation: New Water Map of Mars
The hunt for water on Mars has always been a point of interest for researchers.
Earth has life almost everywhere water exists. Water is an ideal target for finding lifeforms, like microbes, that may exist on other planets.
And if Mars is to become a future home, knowing where water exists will be necessary for our survival.
Both NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have special instruments searching for water on the red planet. After 10 years of in-depth investigation, their latest findings suggest a new “water map” for Mars.
Where Did the Water Go?
Many people know Mars as a dry and dusty planet, but it hasn’t always been that way.
Approximately 4.1 to 3.8 billion years ago, Mars had a massive ocean called Oceanus Borealis. It dominated the northern hemisphere of the planet. Specific planetary conditions at that time let water exist on its surface. Changes in temperature, climate, and geology over the years gradually pushed water out to the atmosphere or into the ground.
Up to 99% of this ocean water is trapped within the planet’s crust, locked within special rocks called hydrous minerals.
Hydrous minerals are essentially rocks that have water (or its two main elements, hydrogen and oxygen), incorporated into their chemical structure.
There are four main classes of hydrous minerals: silicates, sulfates, silicas, and carbonates. While these minerals look pretty similar to the naked eye, their chemical compositions and structural arrangements vary. They are detectable by sophisticated equipment and can tell scientists how water geologically changes over time.
The new water map of Mars actually highlights the location of these hydrous minerals. It is a geological map of the rocks that are holding what remains of Mars’s ancient ocean.
Other Sources of Water on Mars
Despite being a “graveyard” for the bulk of the planet’s ocean, hydrous minerals are not the only source of water on Mars.
Water ice is present at both of Mars’s poles. The northern polar ice cap contains the only visible water on the planet, while the southern pole covers its water with a frozen carbon-dioxide cap.
In 2020, radar analyses suggested the presence of liquid water, potentially part of a network of underground saltwater lakes, close to the southern pole. In 2022, new evidence for this liquid water suggested that the planet may still be geothermally active.
More frozen water may be locked away in the deep subsurface, far below what current surveying equipment is able to inspect.
Mapping Out the Next Missions
The new water map is highlighting areas of interest for future exploration on Mars.
There is a small chance that hydrous minerals may be actively forming near water sources. Finding where they co-exist with known areas of buried frozen water provides possible opportunities for extracting water.
ESA’s Rosalind Franklin Rover will land in Oxia Planum, a region rich in hydrous clays, to investigate how water shaped the region and whether life once began on Mars.
Many more investigations and studies are developing, but for now, scientists are just getting their toes wet as they explore what hydrous minerals can tell us of Mars’s watery past.
Timeline: The Most Important Science Headlines of 2022
Join us as we look back at some of the most exciting, inspiring, and biggest science stories that made headlines in 2022.
Scientific discoveries and technological innovation play a vital role in addressing many of the challenges and crises that we face every year.
The last year may have come and gone quickly, but scientists and researchers have worked painstakingly hard to advance our knowledge within a number of disciplines, industries, and projects around the world.
Over the course of 2022, it’s easy to lose track of all the amazing stories in science and technology.
At a Glance: Major Scientific Headlines of 2022
Below we dive a little deeper into some of the most interesting headlines, while providing links in case you want to explore these developments further.
The James Webb Space Telescope Arrives at its Destination
What happened: A new space telescope brings promise of exciting findings and beautiful images from the final frontier. This telescope builds on the legacy of its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, which launched over 30 years ago.
Why it matters: The James Webb Space Telescope is our latest state-of-the-art “window” into deep space. With more access to the infrared spectrum, new images, measurements, and observations of outer space will become available.
Complete: The Human Genome
What happened: Scientists finish sequencing the human genome.
Why it matters: A complete human genome allows researchers to better understand the genetic basis of human traits and diseases. New therapies and treatments are likely to arise from this development.
Monkeypox Breaks Out
What happened: A higher volume of cases of the monkeypox virus was reported in non-endemic countries.
Why it matters: Trailing in the shadow of a global pandemic, researchers are keeping a closer eye on how diseases spread. The sudden spike of multinational incidences of monkeypox raises questions about disease evolution and prevention.
» To learn more, read this article by the New York Times.
A Perfectly Preserved Woolly Mammoth
What happened: Gold miners unearth a 35,000 year old, well-preserved baby woolly mammoth in the Yukon tundra.
Why it matters: The mammoth, named Nun cho ga by the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation, is the most complete specimen discovered in North America to date. Each new discovery allows paleontologists to broaden our knowledge of biodiversity and how life changes over time.
» To learn more, read this article from Smithsonian Magazine
The Rise of AI Art
What happened: Access to new computer programs, such as DALL-E and Midjourney, give members of the general public the ability to create images from text-prompts.
Why it matters: Widespread access to generative AI tools fuels inspiration—and controversy. Concern for artist rights and copyright violations grow as these programs potentially threaten to diminish creative labor.
Dead Organs Get a Second Chance
What happened: Researchers create a perfusion system that can revitalize organs after cellular death. Using a special mixture of blood and nutrients, organs of a dead pig can be sustained after death—and in some cases, even promote cellular repair.
Why it matters: This discovery could potentially lead to a greater shelf-life and supply of organs for transplant.
DART Delivers A Cosmic Nudge
What happened: NASA crashes a spacecraft into an asteroid just to see how much it would move. Dimorphos, a moonlet orbiting a larger asteroid called Didymos 6.8 million miles (11 million km) from Earth, is struck by the DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) spacecraft. NASA estimates that as much as 22 million pounds (10 million kg) was ejected after the impact.
Why it matters: Earth is constantly at risk of being struck by stray asteroids. Developing reliable methods of deflecting near-Earth objects could save us from meeting the same fate as the dinosaurs.
Falling Sperm Counts
What happened: A scientific review suggests human sperm counts are decreasing—up to 62% over the past 50 years.
Why it matters: A lower sperm count makes it more difficult to conceive naturally. Concerns about global declining male health also arise because sperm count is a marker for overall health. Researchers look to extraneous stressors that may be affecting this trend, such as diet, environment, or other means.
» To learn more, check out this article from the Guardian.
Finding Ancient DNA
What happened: Two million-year-old DNA is found in Greenland.
Why it matters: DNA is a record of biodiversity. Apart from showing that a desolate Arctic landscape was once teeming with life, ancient DNA gives hints about our advancement to modern life and how biodiversity evolves over time.
» To learn more, read this article from National Geographic
What happened: The U.S. Department of Energy reports achieving net energy gain for the first time in the development of nuclear fusion.
Why it matters: Fusion is often seen as the Holy Grail of safe clean energy, and this latest milestone brings researchers one step closer to harnessing nuclear fusion to power the world.
Science in the New Year
The future of scientific research looks bright. Researchers and scientists are continuing to push the boundaries of what we know and understand about the world around us.
For 2023, some disciplines are likely to continue to dominate headlines:
- Advancement in space continues with projects like the James Webb Space Telescope and SETI COSMIC’s hunt for life beyond Earth
- Climate action may become more demanding as recovery and prevention from extreme weather events continue into the new year
- Generative AI tools such as DALL-e and ChatGPT were opened to public use in 2022, and ignited widespread interest in the potential of artificial intelligence
- Even amidst the lingering shadow of COVID-19, new therapeutics should advance medicine into new territories
Where science is going remains to be seen, but this past year instills faith that 2023 will be filled with even more progress.
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