Water on Mars

It turns out that when you get up close and have a look around, there is a pile of evidence on Mars suggesting that the Angry Red Planet used to be the Disgruntled Wet Planet. Have a look at this photo of an unambiguous delta sitting in a crater.

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A color-enhanced image of the delta in Jezero Crater, which once held a lake. Researchers led by CRISM team member and Brown graduate student Bethany Ehlmann report that ancient rivers ferried clay-like minerals (shown in green) into the lake, forming the delta. Clays tend to trap and preserve organic matter, making the delta a good place to look for signs of ancient life.

…the Red Planet once hosted vast lakes, flowing rivers and a variety of other wet environments that had the potential to support life. …

… vast regions of the ancient highlands of Mars, which cover about half the planet, contain clay minerals, which can form only in the presence of water. Volcanic lavas buried the clay-rich regions during subsequent, drier periods of the planet’s history, but impact craters later exposed them at thousands of locations across Mars. The data for the study derives from images taken by the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars, or CRISM, and other instruments on the orbiter.

“The big surprise from these new results is how pervasive and long-lasting Mars’ water was, and how diverse the wet environments were,” said Scott Murchie, CRISM principal investigator at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.

The clay-like minerals, called phyllosilicates, preserve a record of the interaction of water with rocks dating back to what is called the Noachian period of Mars’ history, approximately 4.6 billion to 3.8 billion years ago. This period corresponds to the earliest years of the solar system, when Earth, the moon and Mars sustained a cosmic bombardment by comets and asteroids. Rocks of this age have largely been destroyed on Earth by plate tectonics. They are preserved on the moon, but were never exposed to liquid water. The phyllosilicate-containing rocks on Mars preserve a unique record of liquid water environments possibly suitable for life in the early solar system.

“The minerals present in Mars’ ancient crust show a variety of wet environments,” said John Mustard, a member of the CRISM team from Brown University, and lead author of the Nature study. “In most locations the rocks are lightly altered by liquid water, but in a few locations they have been so altered that a great deal of water must have flushed though the rocks and soil. This is really exciting because we’re finding dozens of sites where future missions can land to understand if Mars was ever habitable and if so, to look for signs of past life.”

Read the rest here.

Comments

  1. #1 Stephanie Z
    July 20, 2008

    That is one of the loveliest things I’ve seen lately, and I’m not talking about all the colors.

  2. #2 bob koepp
    July 20, 2008

    Jeez, it looks like canals to me.

  3. #3 joel_m
    July 20, 2008

    Canals and a big round amphitheater of some kind. A Martian amphitheater, no doubt.

  4. #4 ian
    July 21, 2008

    We should make a bar chart of these results. The bars will be Mars bars of course….

  5. #5 BobbyEarle
    July 21, 2008

    This is very cool.

    I wonder if the little green men would take out houseboats, and toss a line out for catfish. This, of course, is the Thing To Do when you have deltas lying around.

    Naa, probably not.

  6. #6 megan
    July 21, 2008

    My new favorite scientific word: phyllosilicates. I didn’t know phyllo dough was named that for a reason, but I am not suprised. Etymology, huzzah!

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