Ancient Mars Was Home to Massive Bodies of Moving Water and 65-Foot Floods

New discoveries are forcing us to rethink everything we thought we knew about Mars.

According to a new scientific study, ancient Mars was home to large bodies of liquid water that produced floods more than 65 feet high.

The new study argues that many rock depositions on the surface of the red planet are in fact the result of massive bodies of moving water and not just ordinary rivers.

Scientists explain that the red planet may once have been home to global ice, similar to what existed on the surface of our planet during the Pleistocene Era, eventually giving way to large floods that shaped some of the geological features on Mars we are seeing today.

This is the physiography of the Gale Crater shown in a HiRISE map. Image Credit: NASA
This is the physiography of the Gale Crater shown in a HiRISE map. Image Credit: NASA

Scientists looked at a 400-meter stretch of sedimentary rock discovered in Mars’ Gale Crater, a region widely explored by NASA’s Curiosity Rover and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Curiously, the Gale crater is home to rocks that are believed to be 3.7 to 4.1 billion years old.

Using images gathered by NASA rovers and orbiters, scientists of Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi interpreted the geological process that occurred on the surface of Mars billions of years ago.

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Lead author Ezat Heydari who presented his findings at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Within those 400 meters of rock at the Gale Crater, the researchers identified as many as four different units that represent different types of deposition, and Heydari explains that “in my opinion, deposition of all of these packages involved water.”

This Mastcam image shows a conglomerate with grains of up to 10 centimeters in diameter. Many of these appear to be well-rounded, which is further evidence of moving water on Mars. Image Credit: NASA
This Mastcam image shows a conglomerate with grains of up to 10 centimeters in diameter. Many of these appear to be well-rounded, which is further evidence of moving water on Mars. Image Credit: NASA

One specific spot, known as the Hummocky Plain Unit Heydari found ridges filled with rounded cobbles and cross beds up to four meters high.

There, Heydari explains, the grains of sediment reach up to 20 centimeters in size.

“These ridges are asymmetric,” Heydari says.

“In other words, they were formed by one directional current.”

For these elements to exist, the region on Mars would need to have undergone massive flowing with water levels rising between 10 and 20 meters.

“That’s one of the reasons I say these deposits are related to floods, rather than a puny river,” Heydari explains.

Furthermore, the sedimentary rocks we see today at the Gale Crater on Mars may have been ‘brought there’ through processes similar to those that took place on the surface of our planet, during the Pleistocene (about 2 million years to 12,000 years ago).

“On both planets, one hemisphere was covered by ice – northern Hemisphere on Earth, versus the Southern Hemisphere in Mars – and the other hemisphere was warm,” Heydari says.

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