Studying the Evolution of Mars To Understand Our

A recent study conducted by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Brown University has provided detailed analysis of data obtained by the Zhurong rover on Mars. The study suggests that the planet experienced a major shift in climate, accompanied by changes in prevailing winds, about 400,000 years ago, which coincides with the end of the last glacial period on Mars.

The researchers examined the surface structure and chemical composition of Martian dunes located on the southern Utopian Plain near the Zhurong rover landing site. They found that the prevailing wind direction on the plain shifted nearly 70 degrees from northeast to northwest. This shift in winds caused the erosion of crescent-shaped dunes that were formed during the last glacial period into dark, longitudinal ridges after the Martian ice age.

The study, published in Nature on July 5, 2023, highlights the importance of understanding the climate evolution of Mars. Mars is considered to be the most similar planet to Earth in the Solar System, and studying its climate processes can provide insights into the evolution and history of Earth and other planets.

© Nasa

Previous research has suggested that the Martian climate has changed over time, but the lack of direct measurements and samples from Mars limited scientists’ ability to validate and characterize these climate processes. The Zhurong rover’s high-resolution cameras, surface composition analyzers, and meteorological measuring instruments allowed the researchers to obtain in situ data directly from the Martian surface.

The research team estimated that a change in the angle of Mars’ rotational axis caused the planet to exit its most recent ice age. This change in axis angle affected the morphology, orientation, physical properties, and stratigraphy (layering) of dunes on the southern Utopian Plain. The study aimed to integrate rover-scale data of dune formations and weather conditions to confirm the change in prevailing wind direction with the end of the last ice age and improve models used to predict seasonal wind direction changes.

The study also revealed that the prevailing wind data and dune stratigraphy at the rover landing area were consistent with the presence of ice and dust layers found at middle and higher latitudes of Mars. This information is crucial for understanding the ancient climate of Mars during the Amazonian epoch, which began between 3.55 and 1.8 billion years ago and continues to this day.

The researchers emphasize the scientific value of conducting in situ studies on the Martian surface. The Zhurong rover will continue to collect data to further study the Amazonian and present-day climate of Mars. This research aims to enhance our knowledge of the last two billion years of Martian climate history, including its environment and processes.