Evidence of Ancient Martian Oceans Strengthens as Landslides Near Olympus Mons Indicate Past Water Presence
Evidence surrounding the history of Mars continues to intrigue scientists, as new research points towards the possibility that the towering Olympus Mons, the highest volcano in our solar system, was once bordered by vast Martian oceans. These aquatic bodies potentially played a significant role in shaping the characteristic streaks observed on the Martian surface.
Images analyzed from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter, which recently commemorated two decades of Martian exploration, have highlighted a unique feature known as the Lycus Sulci. This geologic formation, characterized by parallel grooves (the term ‘Sulci’ is derived from Latin, translating to “parallel grooves”), spans a staggering 621 miles (1,000 km) from Olympus Mons, terminating just before the Yelwa Crater. This Martian crater, spanning 4.9 miles (8 km), has been named in homage to a town in Nigeria.
Scalding lava flowing from Olympus Mons
Scientists postulate that the striated texture of the Lycus Sulci resulted from scalding lava flowing from Olympus Mons millions of years ago, which encountered water and ice, leading to colossal landslides. Some of these landslides are believed to have covered vast distances, solidifying over time and resulting in the wrinkled patterns observed today.
Although the existence of such streaked features on Mars is well-documented, the role of water in their genesis has been an area of active debate. The latest findings bolster the dominant hypothesis asserting the prevalence of liquid water on ancient Mars, a stark contrast to its current state – a chilly desert with sparse remnants of ice concentrated primarily at its poles.
Colossal cliffs on Mars
Supporting this theory further, recent discoveries in July unveiled colossal cliffs, also known as escarpments, enveloping Olympus Mons. These towering structures are believed to delineate an ancient shoreline, with a massive depression beneath it, where water was once abundant. These latest revelations imply that the lower regions of the mountain suffered deterioration when the lava emanating from its core destabilized the water and ice at its foundation.
This cataclysmic event manifested in the form of immense rockfalls and landslides, dispersing extensively over the adjacent plains, according to a statement from the research team.
Lava channels leading towards the Yelwa Crater underscore the vast distances these monumental landslides covered from the volcano’s perimeter before coming to a rest, the researchers added.
Expanding our knowledge about Mars
While these findings undoubtedly enhance our understanding of Mars’s geological history, they don’t necessarily provide insights into the planet’s potential to harbor life. However, drawing parallels with Earth, a 2019 study highlighted the resilience of “lava crickets” in Hawaii, thriving amidst the extreme heat of post-eruptive lava flows.
While the past existence of liquid water on Mars is a positive sign for potential life forms, most researchers posit that any such organisms succumbed along with the ancient oceans. However, a minority theorizes that some microscopic organisms could have survived, potentially in a dormant state within the Martian ice caps. Their existence in contemporary times remains speculative.
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