Water on Mars? Ancient Red Planet had humongous ocean, say scientists. (+video)
Water on Mars: Images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter suggests that billions of years ago, as much as a third of the Red Planet's surface could have been covered with liquid water.
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Ancient river deltas have been discovered on Mars before. But most of them have been spotted inside craters or other geologically bounded regions, providing evidence for lakes but not global oceans, researchers said.Skip to next paragraph
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The newfound delta is different.
"This is probably one of the most convincing pieces of evidence of a delta in an unconfined region — and a delta points to the existence of a large body of water in the northern hemisphere of Mars," lead author Roman DiBiase, a postdoctoral scholar at Caltech, said in a statement.
Just how big this body of water was remains an open question. It would at least have flooded all of Aeolis Dorsa, covering about 38,600 square miles [≈ Iceland] (100,000 square km), researchers said. And it might even be the long-hypothesized global ocean, which some scientists suspect covered a third of Mars.
It's possible that the Aeolis Dorsa delta was once confined by a crater or other feature that has since completely eroded. However, this interpretation implies that the Martian surface is more geologically active than scientists think, team members said.
The researchers plan to continue searching for signs of the potential ocean along its coastline, in an attempt to shed more light on the Red Planet's warmer and wetter past.
"In our work and that of others — including the Curiosity rover — scientists are finding a rich sedimentary record on Mars that is revealing its past environments, which include rain, flowing water, rivers, deltas and potentially oceans," Lamb said. "Both the ancient environments on Mars and the planet's sedimentary archive of these environments are turning out to be surprisingly Earth-like."
The study was published online in the July 12 issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research.
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