The search for signs of life on Mars continues as the European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission reveals evidence of massive lakes on Mars. The agency found that the lakes were interconnected through an ancient system of lakes beneath the surface of the Red Planet. Scientists believe five of those lakes could be rich in the minerals which are the main ingredients for life as we know it on Earth.
Various scientific models hint at the existence of liquid water beneath the Martian surface. However, this is the first time a spacecraft has beenable to capture data on the global network of lakes and enable scientists to observe their properties. The basins discovered by the Mars Express spacecraft are located in the northern hemisphere of Mars, according to a study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.
“Early Mars was a watery world, but as the planet’s climate changed this water retreated below the surface to form pools and ‘groundwater’,” lead author Francesco Salese from Utrecht University in the Netherlands said in a statement. “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.”
Mars Express observed 24 deep craters, and by checking the spacecraft’s observations, the research team discovered that the features of the craters likely developed due to the presence of water. The scientists concluded this by observing the channels and valleys which were etched into the walls of the craters and by noting fan-shaped deposits of sediment which hint at the presence of water. The evidence of the massive lakes on Mars also hints that the amount of water once present in those lakes corresponds to the water level of the huge ocean believed to have existed on the planet long ago.
“We think that this ocean may have connected to a system of underground lakes that spread across the entire planet,” added co-author Gian Gabriele Ori of D’Annunzio University’s International Research School of Planetary Sciences. “These lakes would have existed around 3.5 billion years ago, so may have been contemporaries of a Martian ocean.”
In five of the 24 craters they studied, the scientists found traces of clay, carbonates and silicates, all of which are critical components for the building blocks of life. Scientists believe these materials enable life to exist on Earth. Even though the presence of these materials doesn’t necessarily mean that life once flourished there, the evidence of massive lakes on Mars provides hope that water may be hidden well beneath the surface of the planet.
The ESA’s announcement isn’t the only recent development in exploration of the Red Planet. Following the success of its mission on the far side of the moon, China announced that it’s planning to send a rover to the Mars. That rover may be able to uncover more evidence of liquid water on Mars and greater amounts of life-essential material beneath the planet’s surface.