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UP, Bihar towns on Mars? Indian scientists name newly discovered Martian craters Mursan and Hilsa

UP, Bihar towns on Mars? Indian scientists name newly discovered Martian craters Mursan and Hilsa
Scientists at the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in Ahmedabad have not only discovered a trio of craters on Mars, but have also received the honour of naming them.

Several decades later, humanity might find itself roughing it out on Mars. Once we’re there, there’s no telling that we won’t get lost — it being a whole new planet and all that. But were one of us to lose our way somewhere around the Tharsis volcanic region, we might stumble upon a sign reading "Hilsa," followed by the faint strains of a familiar tune, the ever-popular Bhojpuri song Lollypop Lageli, drifting through the thin air.

The team at PRL stumbled upon three craters in Mars’ Tharsis volcanic region, near the equator in the western hemisphere of the Red Planet. Among these, the largest, a behemoth spanning 65 kilometres, has been named "Lal Crater" after the esteemed Professor Devendra Lal, a former PRL director who left a lasting legacy in cosmic ray physics and space research.

Adjacent to Lal Crater lie two smaller craters, each 10 kilometres wide. These bear the names "Mursan Crater" and "Hilsa Crater," a heartening tribute to the Indian towns of Mursan (Uttar Pradesh) and Hilsa (Bihar).

Mursan Crater honours the town of Mursan in Uttar Pradesh, the birthplace of Dr. Anil Bharadwaj, PRL's current director. Similarly, Hilsa Crater pays tribute to the town of Hilsa in Bihar, the hometown of Dr Rajeev Ranjan Bharti, a key PRL scientist involved in the discovery.

This prestigious recognition by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the ultimate authority on celestial body names, marks a significant milestone for India's growing role in planetary exploration. The true scientific significance, however, lies beneath the surface.

Using NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) equipped with the powerful SHARAD radar, the team peered through the Martian crust. What they found beneath Lal Crater was a game-changer: a massive 45-metre thick layer of sediment!

This discovery is a scientific Rosetta Stone, unlocking secrets about Mars' watery past. The presence of such a thick layer of sediment strongly suggests that water once flowed freely on the Red Planet, carrying and depositing vast quantities of material over time.

"This discovery confirms that Mars was once wet and water has flown on the surface," said Dr Anil Bhardwaj, Director of PRL. "It is a significant step in unravelling the planet's geological history and potential for harbouring life."

In other news, scientists have also detected water frost at Mars' equator for the first time ever despite the thin atmosphere. This frost appears on Martian volcanoes in the morning and disappears quickly due to sunlight. The frost is very thin but could be a water resource for future astronauts!

Meanwhile, the PRL team's findings, published in the Astrophysical Journal, not only add valuable pieces to the Martian puzzle but also showcase India's growing prowess in space exploration.

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