China's Zhurong Mars rover has found evidence that liquid water may have been present and relatively widespread on Mars more recently than we thought.
Zhurong recently studied sand dunes in Mars' mid-latitudes, which displayed particular cracking and crusts. Scientists say they're potential evidence that liquid water was present on the surface as little as 400,000 years ago.
The researchers say the features most likely came from the thawing of snow or frost that was on the ground sometime back then. They say wind or carbon dioxide in the atmosphere wouldn't have showed the same effects.
The probe did not directly detect evidence of water, the researchers say, and the amount of water that might have caused the features in the past would have been very small.
Still, the rover finding the features where it did suggests frost activity is more widespread on Mars than we thought. The Viking II lander found evidence of frosts on Mars at higher latitudes back in the 1970s. This new research shows the conditions for frost could have been met in more places across the planet.
The researchers say the findings could be useful for targeting future missions that are searching for signs of life — they might take a closer look at lower and warmer latitudes like this.
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