Water Flowed on Mars Longer than Previously Thought: NASA

Water on Mars
Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mars is known for its endless red desert plains today. It wasn’t always like this, though. According to new NASA research, there was water on Mars and it flowed on the surface for longer than previously thought. The Red Planet, like Earth billions of years ago, rippled with rivers and ponds, providing a suitable environment for microbial life. However, as the planet’s atmosphere weakened over time, that water evaporated. The water was thought to have vanished three billion years ago. However, two scientists reviewing data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) during the previous 15 years have discovered evidence that drastically alters the timetable.

According to their findings, liquid water existed on Mars as recently as 2–2.5 billion years ago. As a result, water flowed on Mars for a billion years longer than previously thought. The researchers used chloride salt deposits left behind by evaporating freezing meltwater. Water flowed on Mars until relatively recently, according to certain valley networks, although there was no conclusive evidence. Salt deposits, which are the first mineral evidence, prove the presence of liquid water.

The findings were published in the open-access journal AGU Advances. They also offer intriguing new concerns, such as how long microbial life on Mars could have survived.

The study’s lead author Ellen Leask and Caltech professor Bethany Ehlmann mapped the chloride salts over Mars’ southern hemisphere using data from an MRO instrument called the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars. After more than a decade of providing high-resolution image, stereo, and infrared data, MRO has led to new insights on the nature and timing of these river-connected ancient salt ponds, according to an article on the NASA website.

The salt crystals were originally spotted 14 years ago by NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft, which was launched in 2001. Since its debut in 2005, MRO, which has higher-resolution equipment than Odyssey, has been examining the salts.

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