Mars Had Rivers Larger Than the Nile That Existed for Billions of Years

Scientists have recently found that the red planet, earth’s neighboring world had massive rivers as large as the Nile or Mississippi, that covered its surface for billions of years until Mars lost its atmosphere to space.

The massive rivers are thought to have existed on the Martian surface up until one billion years ago.

Topographic view of dried out river valley network on Mars. Image Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.
Topographic view of dried out river valley network on Mars. Image Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

This is surprising say scientists, because it took place long after Mars started to lose its atmosphere, which hits at an ‘unknown mechanism’ of climate-driven precipitation taking place as the planet dried out.

Throughout the years, scientists have gathered a plethora of information which indicates that Mars once had lots of liquid water on its surface.

There are clearly visible geological features on its surface which suggest the landscape had been vastly sculpted by flowing water. Furthermore, NASA’s rovers have also found evidence of liquid water flowing on the surface including Martian rocks with clay minerals.

This image shows the distribution of a number of deep craters (marked as dots) recently explored as part of a study into groundwater on Mars. Image Credit: NASA/MGS/MOLA; Crater distribution: F. Salese et al (2019).
This image shows the distribution of a number of deep craters (marked as dots) recently explored as part of a study into groundwater on Mars. Image Credit: NASA/MGS/MOLA; Crater distribution: F. Salese et al (2019).

Scientists have therefore come to the conclusion that around 4 billion years ago, Mars had enough liquid surface water to cover the planet’s surface in a massive 140-meter-deep liquid layer.

This massive amount of liquid water is believed to have gathered on Mars in a massive ocean that covered half of the Red Planet’s northern hemisphere.

But in addition to the massive global ocean, scientists say that the red planet was home to massive river systems that had major flood events that helped carved some of the canyons we see on Mars today.

A photo of a preserved river channel on Mars, taken by an orbiting satellite, with color overlaid to show different elevations (blue is low, yellow is high). Image Credit:
A photo of a preserved river channel on Mars, taken by an orbiting satellite, with color overlaid to show different elevations (blue is low, yellow is high). Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Univ. Arizona/UChicago.

But the water on Mars is thought to have disappeared when the red planet lost its atmosphere to space.

Exactly when this took place remains an enigma. Scientists argue it was a few billion years ago.

As the atmosphere vanished, the planet dried out, evaporating into space.

But the despite us not seeing traces of a lot of liquid water on the surface today, there is evidnece of vast ancient rivers that existed on the planet.

In a study published in the journal Science Advances, scientists carried out a global survey of the red planet examining the rivers that once existed on the surface.

They used data and satellite images to calculate the intensity of the river runoff, which helped them find the size of the Martian river channels.

And scientists made a surprising discovery: Mars’ rivers were much wider than those on Earth.

In fact, the team of scientists from the University of Chicago concluded that Martian rivers were around two times wider than those on Earth. Furthermore, they found evidence of intense surface run-off that occurred between 3.6 and one billion years ago.

Edwin Kite, lead author of the study and Assistant Professor of geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago explained: “It’s already hard to explain rivers or lakes based on the information we have. This makes a difficult problem even more difficult. Indeed, even on ancient Mars, when it was wet enough for rivers some of the time, the rest of the data looks like Mars was extremely cold and dry most of the time.”

“You would expect the rivers to wane gradually over time, but that’s not what we see. he rivers get shorter, hundreds of kilometers rather than thousands, but discharge is still strong. The wettest day of the year is still very wet. Our work answers some existing questions but raises a new one. Which is wrong: the climate models, the atmosphere evolution models, or our basic understanding of inner solar system chronology?”

Via
Science Advances
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