Traces of groundwater system found on Mars

Spacecraft Discovers Hints of Martian Groundwater

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NASA Curiosity Rover at Gale Crater Mars Illustration
This pair of drawings depicts the same location on Mars at two points in time: now and billions of years ago. The location is in Gale Crater, near the Red Planet's equator. Since August 2012, NASA's Curiosity Mars rover mission has been investigating rock layers in the crater floor and in the crater's central peak (Mount Sharp) for information recorded in the rocks about ancient environmental conditions and how they changed over time. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Scientists in Geneva have declared, lately, that they have perceived the first ever evidence of an ancient groundwater system consisting of interconnected lakes on Mars. These interconnected lakes lay deep beneath the planet’s surface, five of which may have minerals vital for survival.

Although Mars appears to be a sterile land, its surface shows potent signs that once there were large quantities of water existing on the planet.

Researches and researchers have said that the history of water on Mars has been a complicated topic, and is intricately associated with understanding whether or not life ever arose there – and, if so, where, when, and how it did so.

The recent study, which was earlier predicted by models, says that: “Early Mars was a watery world, but as the planet’s climate changed, this water retreated below the surface to form pools and groundwater“.

The lead author Francesco Salese of Utrecht University, further added – “We traced this water in our study, as its scale and role is a matter of debate, and we found the first geological evidence of a planet-wide groundwater system on Mars”.

Salese and his colleagues explored 24 deep, enclosed craters in the northern hemisphere of Mars, with floors lying roughly 4000 meters below Martian ‘sea level’ (a level that, given the planet’s lack of seas, is arbitrarily defined on Mars based on elevation and atmospheric pressure).

Global Groundwater
How Mars Express gathered evidence for groundwater on Mars. (Source: NASA/JPL-CALTECH/MSSS; DIAGRAM ADAPTED FROM F. SALESE ET AL. (2019))

They found features on the floors of these craters that could only have formed in the presence of water. Many craters contain multiple features, all at depths of 4000 to 4500 meters – indicating that these craters once contained pools and flows of water that transformed and diminished over time.

These features include channels etched into crater walls, valleys carved out by sapping groundwater, dark, curved deltas thought to have formed as water levels rose and fell ridged terraces within crater walls formed by standing water, and fan-shaped deposits of sediment associated with flowing water. The water level aligns with the proposed shorelines of a putative Martian ocean thought to have existed on Mars between three and four billion years ago.

“We think that this ocean may have connected to a system of underground lakes that spread across the entire planet,” adds co-author Gian Gabriele Ori, director of the Università D’Annunzio’s International Research School of Planetary Sciences, Italy.

“These lakes would have existed around 3.5 billion years ago, so may have been contemporaries of a Martian ocean.”

Exploring these sites reveal the conditions suitable for finding past life, and are therefore highly relevant to astrobiological missions such as ExoMars – a joint ESA and Roscosmos endeavor. While the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter is already studying Mars from above, the next mission will launch next year.

ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter Model at ESOC
ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, seen at ESOC in Darmstadt, Germany (Source: wikimedia.org)

Mars Express was launched on 2 June 2003 and reached 15 years in space in 2018. The studies and researches conducted lately, have been proved to be fruitful as we have got some really good results from them.

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