Astronomers have discovered the first ever evidence that a river once flowed for over 100,000 years on Mars. Researchers from the University of Utrecht were analyzing high-resolution images taken by the HiRISE camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter when they found proof of a major river.
They found evidence that the river was quite deep and fast-flowing by analyzing the marks on exposed cliff faces that are over 650 feet in height. Additionally, the river would have flowed continuously throughout year. This new evidence proves that approximately 3.7 billion years ago, the Red Planet would have had an atmosphere stable enough to support large quantities of liquid water and even capable of supporting life.
“Such perennially flowing rivers would require an environment capable of maintaining large volumes of water for extensive time-periods, and almost certainly necessitated a precipitation-driven hydrological cycle,” explained lead researcher Dr. Francesco Salese, adding, “More in line with slower climatic change, and less in line with catastrophic hydrologic events.” “This kind of evidence, of a long-lived watery landscape, is crucial in our search for ancient life on the planet.”
They think that the river was continuously shifting therefore making sandbanks that are close to the ones found in the Rhine as well as additional rivers that are located in the northern part of Italy.
The huge cliff face is situated in the northwestern rim of the Hellas Basin in the southern hemisphere of the planet in a place that’s called Izola Mensa. Researchers were able to study tons of detail located on the soft sedimentary rocks and noticed that the marks were the same as those found here on our planet when water flows along rocks for an extended period of time. Pictures can be seen here.
Unfortunately, they weren’t able to determine the length of the river. Salese explained this further by stating, “The extremely high resolution imagery allowed us to “read” the rocks as if you are standing very close to the cliff,” adding, “Unfortunately we don't have the ability to climb, to look at the finer-scale details, but the striking similarities to sedimentary rocks on Earth leaves very little to the imagination.” Their study was published in the journal Nature Communications and can be read in full here.
Hopefully this new technology can aid scientists in examining even more planets. “Now we have the technology to extend this methodology to another terrestrial planet, Mars, which hosts an ancient sedimentary rock record which extends even further back in time than our own,” noted William McMahon who is a geologist at Utrecht University.
Salese added that NASA’s Perseverance rover is scheduled to fly by the Red Planet in July or August of this year and it will explore other similar rock deposits located in different parts of the planet.