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Ocean Once Existed On Mars -
New Evidence Presented By Caltech Scientists

17 July, 2013

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MessageToEagle.com - Nearly a third of the surface of ancient Mars was covered by an ocean of liquid water, according to the Mars ocean hypothesis.

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have discovered evidence for an ancient vast ocean that once existed on Mars.

This possible ocean could have covered much of Mars's northern hemisphere-stretching over as much as a third of the planet - which means the entire Aerolis Dorsa region, which spans about 100,000 square kilometers.


Artist's impression of a Martian ocean shoreline seen from the air 3.5bn years ago, based on satellite images. Photograph: G Di Achille/Press Association


"Scientists have long hypothesized that the northern lowlands of Mars are a dried-up ocean bottom, but no one yet has found the smoking gun," says Mike Lamb, an assistant professor of geology at Caltech and a coauthor of the paper describing the results.

Although the new findings are far from proof of the existence of an ancient ocean, they provide some of the strongest support yet, says Roman DiBiase, a postdoctoral scholar at Caltech and lead author of the paper.

The research team generated stereo images based on a compilation of photographs taken with the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

The HiRISE camera can pick out features as tiny as 25 centimeters long on the surface and the topographic data can distinguish changes in elevation at a resolution of 1 meter.

Previous satellite images have shown that this area-part of a larger region called Aeolis Dorsa, which is about 1,000 kilometers away from Gale Crater where the Curiosity rover is now roaming-is covered in ridge-like features called inverted channels.

The remaining sediment appears as today's ridge-like features, tracing the former river system.

Although this study doesn't definitively prove that an ancient ocean existed, it provides some of the strongest support yet, DiBiase said.



Click on image to enlarge

Comparison of exhumed delta in sedimentary rocks on Mars (left) with a modern delta on Earth (right). On the left, a shaded relief map shows elevated, branching, lobate features in Aeolis Dorsa, Mars, interpreted as resistant channel deposits that make up an ancient delta. These layered, cross-cutting features are typical of channelized sedimentary deposits on Earth and here are indicative of a coastal delta environment. (Courtesy DiBiase et al./Journal of Geophysical Research/2013 and USGS/NASA Landsat)


"Early workers mapped out the distribution of features they interpreted as shorelines of the past ocean, but recent analysis with better satellite imagery have made these interpretations controversial," DiBiase said.

"Ultimately, the best evidence for a past ocean on Mars (akin to the ones) we have found on Earth will come from analyzing the story encoded in the sedimentary rock record."

"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," DiBiase says.

Much more work is needed and the next step is to continue exploring the boundary between the southern highlands and northern lowlands - the hypothetical ocean coastline - and analyze other sedimentary deposits to see if they yield more evidence for an ocean.

"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 says.

"Both the ancient environments on Mars and the planet's sedimentary archive of these environments are turning out to be surprisingly Earth-like."

The paper was published online in the July 12 issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research.

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See also:
Vision For The Future: Plants Growing On Mars

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