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Evidence Found for Ancient Mars Lake

Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by Concudan, Jun 18, 2009.

  1. Concudan

    Concudan Caffeinated Commando

    Mar 5, 2006


    Several studies in recent years have claimed evidence for shorelines and other features that suggest ancient lakes on Mars. Firm evidence has remained elusive.

    Now a University of Colorado at Boulder research team claims "the first definitive evidence of shorelines on Mars" in a statement released today.

    The scientists see signs of "a deep, ancient lake," which would have implications for the potential for past life on Mars. Life as we know it requires water, and while Mars is dry now, if there was abundant water in the past -- as many studies have suggested -- then life would have been a possibility. There is, however, no firm evidence that life does or ever did exist on the red planet.

    Researchers estimate the lake existed more than 3 billion years ago. It covered as much as 80 square miles and was up to 1,500 feet deep -- roughly the equivalent of Lake Champlain bordering the United States and Canada, said Gaetano Di Achille, who led the study out of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

    The shoreline evidence, found along a broad delta, included a series of alternating ridges and troughs thought to be surviving remnants of beach deposits.

    "This is the first unambiguous evidence of shorelines on the surface of Mars," Di Achille said. "The identification of the shorelines and accompanying geological evidence allows us to calculate the size and volume of the lake, which appears to have formed about 3.4 billion years ago."

    The findings have been published online in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

    Other studies have claimed evidence for lakes on Mars too, however, including one in Holden Crater announced last year.

    And several studies have found evidence â€" from possible shorelines to salty deposits indicating the evaporation of water â€" for shallow lakes or oceans. Ancient Mars had abundant water, many lines of evidence indicate.

    Images used for the study were taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

    An analysis of the images indicates water carved a 30-mile-long canyon that opened up into a valley, depositing sediment that formed a large delta, the researchers conclude. This delta and others surrounding the basin imply the existence of a large, long-lived lake, said Hynek, also an assistant professor in CU-Boulder's geological sciences department. The presumed lake bed is located within a much larger valley known as the Shalbatana Vallis.

    "Finding shorelines is a Holy Grail of sorts to us," said Brian Hynek, also of CU-Boulder.

    In addition, the evidence shows the lake existed during a time when Mars is generally believed to have been cold and dry, which is at odds with current theories proposed by many planetary scientists, he said. "Not only does this research prove there was a long-lived lake system on Mars, but we can see that the lake formed after the warm, wet period is thought to have dissipated."

    Further research will be needed to sort out the discrepancies, however.

    Planetary scientists think the oldest surfaces on Mars formed during the wet and warm Noachan epoch from about 4.1 billion to 3.7 billion years ago that featured a bombardment of large meteors and extensive flooding. The newly discovered lake is believed to have formed during the Hesperian epoch and postdates the end of the warm and wet period on Mars by 300 million years, according to the study.

    The deltas adjacent to the lake are of high interest to planetary scientists because deltas on Earth rapidly bury organic carbon and other biomarkers of life, Hynek said. Most astrobiologists believe any present indications of life on Mars will be discovered in the form of subterranean microorganisms.

    But in the past, lakes on Mars would have provided cozy surface habitats rich in nutrients for such microbes, Hynek said.

    The retreat of the lake apparently was rapid enough to prevent the formation of additional, lower shorelines, Di Achille said. The lake probably either evaporated or froze over with the ice slowly turning to water vapor and disappearing during a period of abrupt climate change, according to the study.

    Di Achille said the newly discovered pristine lake bed and delta deposits would be would be a prime target for a future landing mission to Mars in search of evidence of past life.

    "On Earth, deltas and lakes are excellent collectors and preservers of signs of past life," said Di Achille. "If life ever arose on Mars, deltas may be the key to unlocking Mars' biological past."
  2. Concudan

    Concudan Caffeinated Commando

    Mar 5, 2006
    Why is this important?

    Where there was once water there still could be water. Underground or frozen in the polar caps.

    That said, we need irefutable proof that the lakes and ice are (or were) indeed water and not some other vicous fluid.
  3. SDRaiderH8er

    SDRaiderH8er Well-Known Member

    Apr 27, 2006

    Is there fossils and sea shells?
  4. Concudan

    Concudan Caffeinated Commando

    Mar 5, 2006
    I dont know. There has been no rover activities in the area that I know of.

    I know that there has been salt deposits found, indicateing at one time there was an ancient salt sea, so my guess is we will find something there.
  5. Concudan

    Concudan Caffeinated Commando

    Mar 5, 2006
    Proof! Water Ice Found on Mars

    By Clara Moskowitz
    Staff Writer
    posted: 20 June 2008
    2:55 p.m. ET

    Scientists said today they have "found proof" of water ice on Mars away from the polar ice caps, a discovery made by NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander.

    The finding is a crucial first step toward learning whether the ground on Mars is hospitable, because all life as we know it requires water. Now scientists can get on with the business of studying the chemistry of Mars dirt in more detail.

    When the probe took photos of a ditch it had dug four days before, scientists noticed that about eight small crumbs of a bright material had disappeared. They concluded those crumbs had been water ice buried under a thin layer of dirt that vaporized when Phoenix exposed them to the air.

    "It's with great pride and a lot of joy I announce today we have found proof that this hard material really is water ice and not some other substance," Phoenix principal investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson said at a briefing Friday.

    The finding had been discussed tentatively yesterday, but in a press conference today, researchers left no doubts.

    Phoenix's robotic arm first revealed the crumbs about 5 cm deep in the trench called "Dodo-Goldilocks" on June 15. By June 19, they had vanished. If the crumbs had been salt, they wouldn't have disappeared, scientists said, and if the ice had been made of carbon dioxide, they wouldn't have vaporized.

    "What this tells us is we found what we're looking for," said Mark Lemmon, a Phoenix co-investigator from Texas A&M University. "This tells us that we've got water ice within reach of the [robotic] arms, which means that we can continue the investigation."

    The $420 million mission landed on the arctic plains of Mars May 25, embarking on a quest of at least four months to search for signs that the environment was once habitable to life.

    A "significant result"

    Finding ice on Mars isn't completely shocking, since observations from past satellites sent to orbit the planet, such as the 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft, have indicated that ice is likely to lie beneath the planet's surface. Still, if confirmed, this would be the first direct finding of that ice by a probe on the ground.

    "We certainly expected to find ice there," said Bruce Jakosky, a geologist at the University of Colorado who has been involved with past missions to the red planet. "It was the [previous] evidence for ice that sent us to that location. But there's a difference between expecting it and finding."

    Jakosky called the discovery a "significant result" that allows the Phoenix mission to go forward with its wet chemistry experiments, analyzing the soil for the history and composition of the ice.

    "If they had found no ice, which was a real possibility, that would make this much harder," he told SPACE.com. "I'm anxious to see the results of the chemical analysis."

    And although the 2001 Mars Odyssey satellite could measure the average water ice content in roughly the top meter of ground over areas of several hundred kilometers, these data didn't reveal how that ice was spread out, said Maria Zuber, a geophysicist at MIT who worked on past Mars missions, including the Spirit rover.

    "We don't know the form of the water, beyond the fact that there is too much there to be explained solely by water bound in minerals," Zuber said. "So chunks, a layer, etc. are all possibilities. The [Phoenix] observation is an important advance in our understanding of water on Mars, and continued sampling will undoubtedly add to the story."

    Next steps

    The next questions to answer are what chemicals, minerals and organic compounds might be mixed in with the water.

    "Just the fact that there's ice there doesn't tell you if it's habitable," Smith said. "With ice and no food it's not a habitable zone. We don't eat rocks — we have to have carbon chain materials that we ingest into our bodies to create new cells and give us energy. That's what we eat and that's what has to be there if you're going to have a habitable zone on Mars."

    To find this out, mission scientists plan to eventually put samples of ice into Phoenix's oven instrument, the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA), which is designed to bake Martian dirt and analyze the vapors it emits to detect its composition. They also plan to use the onboard Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA) instrument, a wet chemistry lab that measures levels of acidity, minerals, and conductivity in dirt samples.

    "Now we know for sure that we are on an icy surface and we can really meet the science goals of our mission at the highest level," Lemmon said. "I am just sitting at the edge of my chair waiting to find out what the TEGA and MECA can tell us about these soils."

    Expect the unexpected

    Although the ice finding was expected, until Phoenix actually found it, many scientists were still holding their breath.

    "As for the ice, we were expecting to find it, but science is full of the unexpected, so until they actually found the ice and can begin to study it there are real questions about whether or not the hypothesis was correct," said Phil Christensen, a geophysicist at Arizona State University who worked on 2001 Mars Odyssey, Mars Global Surveyor, and the Mars Exploration Rover missions. "The real excitement will come when they start to study the ice in detail and attempt to learn how it formed and how old it is."
  6. Sydalish

    Sydalish Addicted to Sports

    Nov 11, 2007
    very cool! I saw a show on Discovery last weekend about the earth's core and they talked about how b/c Mars is smaller, their core didn't stay hot in the cold of space which is why they lost their magnetic field and thus protection from the suns rays - evaporating any water on the surface (simplified version but it's the net of it hehe)

    they said tho that they are fairly certain at one time, there was "life" there even if only in it's earliest stages - it just didn't have the chance to develop.

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