NASA Mars rover discovers ‘time capsule’ of dunes hundreds of millions of years ago

Mars is about 4.5 billion years old,media CNET reported. Thanks to robotic explorers, there is a good understanding of its current climate and atmosphere. A new study of ancient dunes suggests what might have happened on the Red Planet a billion years ago.

NASA Mars rover discovers 'time capsule' of dunes hundreds of millions of years ago

A team led by Matthew Chojnacki, a research scientist at the Planetary Science Institute (PSI), took a closer look at Valles Marineris’s wind-driven dunes, a Martian region known for its extensive canyons. These dunes appear to have been preserved by petrochemicals, a geological process that turns sediments into rocks.

The team published a study of the past window of Mars in the journal JGR Planets in August. “Based on the relationship between dune sediments and other geological units and the rate of modern erosion, we estimate that these are about 1 billion years old,” Chojnacki said in a PSI statement monday.

An image taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRise camera shows some of the interesting dunes that are now like time capsules.

These dunes are similar to the patterns currently seen on Mars, giving scientists clues about what happened a long time ago. “Because of the size and spatial arrangement of dune patterns, it is not much different from modern equivalents, and we think climate and atmospheric pressure should be similar to contemporary Mars,” Chojnacki said.

The study adds to the understanding of the geological history of Mars and how different the red planet is from Earth. Although Mars is now a dry and dusty place, recent studies suggest that saltwater lakes may be hidden under the southern ice sheet.