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First Evidence of a Planet-Wide Groundwater System On Mars

Is there lakes on Mars?

Not exactly proper English for a remake of David Bowie’s classic song, but in this case the answer is “Yes” … or at least “Yes, at one time.” For the first time ever, researchers have found solid evidence of large liquid lakes on Mars that were interconnected and possibly teeming with life. Cavemen, sailors and lawmen? Only a hands-on look at this geological evidence will answer that question. Elon?

“Early Mars was a watery world, but as the planet’s climate changed this water retreated below the surface to form pools and ‘groundwater. 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.”

As University of Utrecht planetary geologist Francesco Salese explains in his new study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, credit for this fantastic discovery goes to the three-camera team of the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on the ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft, and NASA’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) and the Context Camera onboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. All of that observational equipment was aimed at 24 deep, enclosed craters in the northern hemisphere of Mars. At a depth of 4,000 meters, which the study defines as 4,000 meters below an arbitrary Martian sea level, nearly all of the craters showed similar evidence that could only be attributed to water.

Mars Express

“Features include channels etched into crater walls, valleys carved out by sapping groundwater, dark, curved deltas thought to have formed as water levels rose and fell, ridged terraces within crater walls formed by standing water, and fan-shaped deposits of sediment associated with flowing water. The water level aligns with the proposed shorelines of a putative martian ocean thought to have existed on Mars between three and four billion years ago.”

Based on this commonality in the majority of the craters, co-author Gian Gabriele Ori, director of the Università D’Annunzio’s International Research School of Planetary Sciences in Italy, believes these underground lakes connected Martian oceans which stretched across the planet 3.5 billion years ago. Because of Marian climate change, this water eventually went underground where it’s possible that it could still exist in pockets of ice. Will that ice or the soil around it contain evidence of Martian life?

“The team also spotted signs of minerals within five of the craters that are linked to the emergence of life on Earth: various clays, carbonates, and silicates. The finding adds weight to the idea that these basins on Mars may once have had the ingredients to host life. Moreover, they were the only basins deep enough to intersect with the water-saturated part of Mars’ crust for long periods of time, with evidence perhaps still buried in the sediments today.”

If there was water …

That’s a qualified ‘yes’, which means thirsty Martian explorers may want to avoid drinking from any water fountains or wells as they traverse the Red Planet. In fact, the discovery highlights the importance of unmanned expeditions in general, as Dmitri Titov, ESA’s Mars Express project scientist, explained in the press release. (Charts and photos here and here.)

“It is especially exciting that a mission that has been so fruitful at the Red Planet, Mars Express, is now instrumental in helping future missions such as ExoMars explore the planet in a different way. It’s a great example of missions working together with great success.”

Working together in space. If the Mars Express and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter can do it, why not humans from the space-exploring countries as well?

Do we need a Space Force … or more Space Friends?

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Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.
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