While most scientists believe Mars to be completely devoid of water, many hypothesize that the planet was once home to oceans, lakes and rivers prior to a solar wind, which attacked the planet’s atmosphere effectively getting rid of all the water.
Today’s report of Tsunamis on Mars
While Mars is a wasteland today it may once of had quite a bit of water and a new study published in Scientific Reports today suggests that the planet was likely home to two massive tsunamis about 3.4 billion years ago. Ironically, this would have occurred about the same time that life on Earth was beginning.
Lead author Alexis Rodriguez of the Planetary Science Institute believes that he and his fellow researchers have found the former shorelines where these tsunamis’ occurred. One of these areas covered 300,000 square miles of the planet, while the second event that came a few million years after the first was bigger with nearly 400,000 square miles affected.
“So, each had roughly the combined areas of California, Nevada and Oregon,” Rodriguez said.
The team believe that they found the shorelines that many have looked for based on the belief that the Red Planet once had oceans. The team located lobates, large amounts of rocks and debris pushed into a slope. These lobates could, in the researchers’ minds, only have been caused by a massive tsunami with enough force to push these rocks up an incline.
“Tsunamis are the most, if not the only, fitting explanation for these observations,” he said. “There are not many processes in nature that can form these features.”
The researchers also believe that in the time between the events, Mars underwent a massive cooling with parts of the oceans actually freezing. The researchers posit that the lobates they found from the second tsunami event may have been frozen waves from the ocean.
“These lobes froze on the land as they reached their maximum extent and the ice never went back to the ocean – which implies the ocean was at least partially frozen at that time,” co-author Alberto Fairén, principal investigator at the Center of Astrobiology, Madrid, said in a statement that accompanied the paper’s publication. “Our paper provides very solid evidence for the existence of very cold oceans on early Mars. It is difficult to imagine Californian beaches on ancient Mars, but try to picture the Great Lakes on a particularly cold and long winter, and that could be a more accurate image of water forming seas and oceans on ancient Mars.”
The scientists believe that these lobates might be a good place for future rovers to go looking for microbial life for if any life existed in Mars’ oceans the team believes that these lobates the best place to look.
NASA and its rover rules
That said, the team knows that at present no rovers will be looking at these sites as NASA and the other space agencies have reached an agreement between them that they wont send rovers to any part of the Martian surface that could play host to life of any kind. While NASA and others worked diligently to ensure that robots and rovers sent to Mars are sterile, the still don’t wish for any microbe coming from Earth contaminating potential samples. If the Curiosity rover were to travel to an area where life is a possibility, its possible that Earth microbes could flourish if there were any present on Curiosity.
It’s the researchers hope that the space agencies can work out a way to ensure future rovers’ sterility and begin sending them to areas like the ones studied in this report to sample the ancient ice.