NASA's Perseverance rover has sent back images that confirm that Mars' Jezero crater was once a lake that was fed by a small river approximately 3.7 billion years ago.
The study that has been carried out shows how much water flowed into the crater - which is completely dry today and wind-eroded, however, it indicates a good starting point as to where the Perseverance rover should search for evidence of life.
According to the first scientific analysis of the images they have revealed evidence that the crater used to endure flash floods.
This flooding was powerful enough to sweep up large boulders from tens of miles upstream and deposit them into the lakebed, where the huge rocks still lie to this day.
Researchers have based their findings on images of the rocks taken inside the crater on its western side.
Satellites had previously shown that this outcrop - when seen from above - resembled river deltas that we see on Earth, where layers of sediment are deposited in the shape of a fan as the river feeds into a lake.
These new, fascinating images confirm that this outcrop was certainly a river delta on Mars.
The study has shown that the ancient Martian lake was quiet and calm for much of its existence, though at some point a dramatic change in climate triggered episodic flooding at or close to the end of the lake's lifetime.
Professor of planetary sciences in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) department of Earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences, Benjamin Weiss, who was a member of the analysis team had this to say:
If you look at these images, you’re basically staring at this epic desert landscape. It’s the most forlorn place you could ever visit.
“There’s not a drop of water anywhere, and yet, here we have evidence of a very different past.
“Something very profound happened in the planet’s history.”
Now that it has been confirmed that the crater was without doubt once a lake, scientists are confident that the sediments there could potentially hold traces of ancient aqueous life.
NASA's Perseverance rover will now try and pinpoint locations to collect sediments from the ancient lakebed, which will eventually be returned to Earth to be examined for the proof of previous Martian life.
Tanja Bosak, associate professor of geobiology at MIT, said: “We now have the opportunity to look for fossils.
“It will take some time to get to the rocks that we really hope to sample for signs of life. So, it’s a marathon, with a lot of potential.”
Prof Weiss added: “The most surprising thing that’s come out of these images is the potential opportunity to catch the time when this crater transitioned from an Earth-like habitable environment, to this desolate landscape wasteland we see now.
“These boulder beds may be records of this transition, and we haven’t seen this in other places on Mars.”
The Perseverance rover landed on the floor of Jezero crater in February this year, and has since been collecting samples, and sending back images.
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