A new study set for publication in Journal of Geophysical Research, Planets, scientists suggest that the water necessary to support life on Mars including a lake larger than what we think of as large lakes formed 2 billion to 3 billion years ago and that means that Mars, as researchers once thought, had enough of an atmosphere left to keep the planet warm enough to support surface water.

Mars
Photo by PublicDomainPictures (Pixabay)

Mars – Lack of atmosphere now questioned

Presently, Mars is too cold to support surface water and that is largely due to the Red Plane losing most of its atmosphere. But the researchers believe in this new study that the surface lakes, rivers and streams formed much later than once thought.

“This paper presents evidence for episodes of water modifying the surface on early Mars for possibly several hundred million years later than previously thought, with some implication that the water was emplaced by snow, not rain,” said Rich Zurek of NASA‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. He was not involved in the study but certainly has a keen interest as a project scientist working on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) mission.

Rather, the project was let by Sharon Wilson of the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Virginia. She and her team used photos from the MRO, NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor probe and Europe’s Mars Express spacecraft and it was from these pictures that Wilson and her team presented their paper. The photos were taken of the northern Arabia Terra region of the planet.

“We discovered valleys that carried water into lake basins,” Wilson said in a statment which included Zurek’s remarks.  “Several lake basins filled and overflowed, indicating there was a considerable amount of water on the landscape during this time.”

She’s not kidding we’re talking about an amount of water that would exceed the volume of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Acutally more water than the two hold collectively and those are two of the Great Lakes.

The MRO, NASA’s Curiosity Rover and other missions have dated lakes, streams back to 3.7 billion years, but the new study has the researchers nearly certain that the lakes they found were around much later.

“The rate at which water flowed through these valleys is consistent with runoff from melting snow,” she said, “These weren’t rushing rivers. They have simple drainage patterns and did not form deep or complex systems like the ancient valley networks from early Mars.”

While that surface water disappeared owing to the loss of Mars’ atmostphere to space but certainly asks questions.

All that said, it’s uncertainly what caused the snow to melt and form lakes and rivers if not the loss of the atmosphere, one theory suggests that Mars could have tilted on is axis’ bringing more sunlight to the poles and could have been responsible for the heating necessary to melt the snow from this cold climate.

Whatever the case may be, there is certainly no life on Mars and certainly no Marvin the Martians threatening an invasion of the Earth. But this study has shook up the beliefs of scientists that have been studying the Red Planet in the decades since these NASA missions were launched that allowed for the study of the surface and these new findings.