Discovery of recurring slope lineae candidates in Mawrth Vallis, Mars

Nhardwaj, A., Sam, L., Martín Torres, F. J., Zorzano, M. P. 2019. Discovery of recurring slope lineae candidates in Mawrth Vallis, Mars. Scientific Reports, 9, DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-39599-z

Several interpretations of recurring slope lineae (RSL) have related RSL to the potential presence of transient liquid water on Mars. Such probable signs of liquid water have implications for Mars exploration in terms of rover safety, planetary protection during rover operations, and the current habitability of the planet. Mawrth Vallis has always been a prime target to be considered for Mars rover missions due to its rich mineralogy. Most recently, Mawrth Vallis was one of the two final candidates selected by the European Space Agency as a landing site for the ExoMars 2020 mission. Therefore, all surface features and landforms in Mawrth Vallis that may be of special interest in terms of scientific goals, rover safety, and operations must be scrutinised to better assess it for future Mars missions. Here, we report on the initial detection of RSL candidates in two craters of Mawrth Vallis. The new sightings were made outside of established RSL regions and further prompt the inclusion of a new geographical region within the RSL candidate group. Our inferences on the RSL candidates are based on several morphological and geophysical evidences and analogies: (i) the dimensions of the RSL candidates are consistent with confirmed mid-latitude RSL; (ii) albedo and thermal inertia values are comparable to those of other mid-latitude RSL sites; and (iii) features are found in a summer season image and on the steep and warmest slopes. These results denote the plausible presence of transient liquid brines close to the previously proposed landing ellipse of the ExoMars rover, rendering this site particularly relevant to the search of life. Further investigations of Mawrth Vallis carried out at higher spatial and temporal resolutions are needed to identify more of such features at local scales to maximize the scientific return from the future Mars rovers, to prevent probable biological contamination during rover operations, to evade damage to rover components as brines can be highly corrosive, and to quantify the ability of the regolith at mid-latitudes to capture atmospheric water which is relevant for in-situ-resource utilization.

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