Sediment data collected by NASA’s Curiosity Rover indicates that floods of unimaginable magnitude washed through Gale Crater on Mars around 4 billion years ago.
I cannot recall a time when life on Mars was not the subject of a lively debate. The Red Planet has been in the center of our attention for too long.
We are eager to find out whether we, Earthlings, have always been this special, living on the only habitable environment in the Universe, or there once was ( or is?) life on Mars as well.
Scientists believe Mars was not always the global desert it is nowadays, but a new study found that in its distant past, this planet actually had significantly more surface than previously thought.
A team of researchers from Jackson State University, Cornell University, and the University of Hawaii worked together with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), to examine sediment data captured by the Curiosity Rover.
Scientists believe that the ‘raging megaflood’ the Rover has identified was likely a result of an asteroid or comet hitting the planet, heating and unleashing ice stored on the Martian surface.
78ft-deep water raged across the crater at 32-feet per second, creating gigantic ripples that are tell-tale structures familiar to scientists on Earth. According to co-author Alberto G. Fairén, this raises the possibility that life once existed there.
Namely, on our planet, “there is life” wherever there is water, so four billion years ago, microbial life may have developed on Mars too.
- Scientists believe that the ‘raging megaflood’ was a result of an asteroid or comet hitting the planet, heating and unleashing ice stored on the surface of Mars
- This close-up image of rocks reveal changes in the bed interval, indicating that water once flowed through the area
Ezat Heydari, one of the co-authors, explained that those massive ripples, called antidunes, are up to 30ft high and spread about 450ft apart.
‘We identified megafloods for the first time using detailed sedimentological data observed by the rover Curiosity. Deposits left behind by megafloods had not been previously identified with orbiter data.”
- In one instance that water entered Gale Crater, and after mixing with water coming down from Mount Sharp in Gale Crater, it produced massive flash floods
Heydari added that the antidunes they have found are identical to the features formed by melting ice on Earth about two million years ago. The stocks of frozen water on Mars had to be subjected to a significant impact event to release carbon dioxide, methane, and the ice as water vapor.
According to researchers, the mixture of water vapor and gases has led to a short warm and wet period that could have resulted in the development of life.
The paper claims:
“The warm and wet climate persisted even after the flooding ended, but its duration cannot be determined by our study.”
The condensation from the heat generated by the impact is believed to have created clouds of water vapor which caused torrential rain -- possibly across the planet.
Earlier, a study that used data from Curiosity demonstrated that about four billion years ago, there had been storms that filled lakes and rivers with rainfall on the planet.
These long-lived bodies of water indicate that the crater, as well as Mount Sharp within it, were capable of supporting microbial life.
- Curiosity sent back images and data for scientists to examine
In one instance, this water entered Gale Crater, and when mixed with water coming down from Mount Sharp in Gale Crater, it produced gigantic flash floods.
The deposits left behind on gravel ridges around the crater can be seen on Mars today.
- Graphic showing the terrain studied by Curiosity and where layers and antidunes have been spotted
- The Gale crater and its various topographic features, including the mountains and ripples produced by activity on the planet over billions of years
“Early Mars was an extremely active planet from a geological point of view. The planet had the conditions needed to support the presence of liquid water on the surface – and on Earth, where there’s water, there’s life.
So early Mars was a habitable planet. Was it inhabited? That’s a question that the next rover Perseverance … will help to answer.”
Curiosity has been roaming Mars for over eight years (2950 sols or 3031 Earth days). Its successor, NASA’s Perseverance rover, which launched from Cape Canaveral on July 30, is scheduled to reach Mars’ Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021.