Insights Into Utopia Basin Revealed By Mars Rover Zhurong

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
Chinese Academy of Sciences
September 27, 2022
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Insights Into Utopia Basin Revealed By Mars Rover Zhurong
Region around the Zhurong rover landing site. a, Topographic map showing the landing site of Zhurong (red star), as well as the landing sites of the Phoenix, InSight, Curiosity, Perseverance and Viking-2 landers/rovers (orange squares). The purple solid and dashed lines show the locations of Martian palaeoshorelines of ref. 11, roughly delineating the depositional contact of the VBF in the northern plains. b, Simplified geological map near the Zhurong landing site with data from ref. 18. Scale bar, 200 km. c, Geomorphic map of the Zhurong landing area with data from ref. 22. Scale bar, 15 km. d, Traverse of the Zhurong rover from 25 May (Sol 11) to 6 September (Sol 113) 2021 on the basemap of a Tianwen-1 High Resolution Imaging Camera image (Sol 19, 2 June 2021). The red star marks the landing site (25.066° N, 109.925° E) and the red line shows the track of the rover. Scale bar, 100 m. Relative distances to the landing site are marked alongside the track. Credit: Nature (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-05147-5

A new radar image obtained by China’s Mars rover Zhurong provides insights into the surface structure of the Utopia Planitia basin. The findings — which reveal multiple sub-layers suggestive of sediment deposition following episodic flooding millions of years ago — may improve our understanding of the planets’ geological and hydrological history.

Results of the findings were published in Nature on Sept. 26.

Utopia is an impact crater on Mars that is widely believed to have hosted an ancient ocean, making it a key target for exploration. However, we haven’t had any new ground-based data from this region for 45 years, since the Viking-2 rover mission. In 2021, the Zhurong rover successfully landed on Mars, as part of China’s first mission to the Red Planet. Zhurong has since been traversing the Martian landscape, with the aim of providing further insight into Utopia’s surface.

CHEN Ling and colleagues from the Institute of Geology and Geophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences presented an image of the surface of southern Utopia Planitia constructed from ground-penetrating radar data collected by Zhurong as it travelled approximately 1,117 metres from its landing site. The image reveals that the ground of the Utopia basin is segmented into multiple sub-surface layers, approximately 70 metres thick in total. On the surface lies a layer of regolith (loose rock and dust) less than 10 metres thick. Although the authors caution that alternative models need to be investigated, they state that the layered structure may indicate that the basin experienced episodic flooding during the Late Hesperian to Amazonian period.

The authors conclude by highlighting that although radar data from Zhurong alone did not provide direct evidence for the presence of liquid water in the upper 80 metres of the basin surface, its presence at lower depths cannot yet be ruled out. (Nature)

Layered subsurface in Utopia Basin of Mars revealed by Zhurong rover radar, Nature


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