False-color image of Mount Sharp from inside the Gale Crater showing the everchanging planetary environment. Note that the sky is not blue on Mars but it was done deliberately to enhance the researchers' ability to distinguish the different stratification layers. Credit: NASA/JPL

Scientists Find Evidence of Massive Ancient “Megafloods” on Mars

How advanced is technology nowadays for experts to find evidence of a massive megaflood on Mars that occurred 4 billion years ago?

New data collected on Mars by Curiosity proves that a megaflood occurred through Gale Crater (where the rover has been operating since 2012) about four billion years ago. Details of this work are published in Scientific Reports.

Apart from a few super-salty lakes below the surface, modern Mars is a vast desert. But this has not always been the case – decades of observations from orbiters in the sky and rovers on the surface have withered the wreckage of rivers, lakes, and even oceans.

An illustration of the Gale Crater as it may have looked like filled with water billions of years ago. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
An illustration of the Gale Crater as it may have looked like filled with water billions of years ago. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

About four billion years ago, a gigantic mass of water (now called a Mars megaflood), at least twenty meters deep, moved through Gale Crater at more than nine meters per second, leaving a giant surface ripple almost 2.5 meters high and spaced about 140 meters apart. Absolutely identical traces were once also formed on Earth by the melting of ice which is a new similarity we can add to the list between our planet and Mars.

Here is the conclusion of a group of scientists based on new sedimentary data collected by the American Curiosity rover.

Did you immediately think of a meteorite impact? If you did, you guessed it right – this is what researchers also believe in. The megaflood on Mars could have been created from the impact of a powerful meteorite. This event released huge deals of methane and carbon dioxide from the frozen reservoirs of the planet.

This led to an overall change in the environmental conditions that caused heavy rainfalls at the Gale Crater. Together with the water from Mount Sharp (in Gale Crater), a massive megaflood began on Mars which scientists now confirmed.

It has been known for a while that there should have been lakes and streams inside the Gale Crater. This was confirmed years ago by the Curiosity science team. This ancient presence of water ultimately suggests the existence of microbial life on Mars. The real question at hand is whether Mars is still inhabited by these life forms.

A new mission has begun that should answer this absolute question. Launched from Cape Canaveral on July 30, the Perseverance rover should reach the planet Mars on February 18 next year.

The Gale Crater today, provided by NASA. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
The Gale Crater today, provided by NASA. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Note that Perseverance will not land at Gale Crater, but Jezero Crater. And it’s not for nothing that this formation with a diameter of 45 km at a depth of 500 meters is also believed to have sheltered water from 3.5 to 3.9 billion years ago. According to the study, this area also contains significant deposits of hydrated silica. It is a particularly effective mineral for the preservation of biosignatures and microfossils.

Once there, the rover will be able to conduct a chemical analysis of these deposits. It will also be able to find organic matter in these deposits. Finally, it is also planned to seal several samples for return to Earth during one of the future missions. Once in our laboratories, researchers will be able to analyze them using the most modern instruments.

With this said, we now know that Mars once had a megaflood similar to the one that appears in numerous Earth myths and legends. Now, we need an answer to the question of whether Mars was once inhabited and whether it can be inhabited now.

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Sources:

Companion, T. (2020, November 24). A Mars megaflood may be evidence of ancient waterways – and maybe life. Retrieved November 26, 2020, from https://thenextweb.com/syndication/2020/11/25/a-mars-megaflood-may-be-evidence-of-ancient-waterways-and-maybe-life/

Heydari, E., Schroeder, J.F., Calef, F.J. et al. Deposits from giant floods in Gale crater and their implications for the climate of early Mars. Sci Rep 10, 19099 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-75665-7

Moon, M. (2020, November 24). Curiosity rover finds evidence of ancient megafloods on Mars. Retrieved November 26, 2020, from https://www.engadget.com/curiosity-rover-megafloods-mars-082618479.html

NASA/JPL/Provided, Blaine Friedlander |, & November 18, 2. (2020, November 18). Field geology at Mars’ equator points to ancient megaflood. Retrieved November 26, 2020, from https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2020/11/field-geology-mars-equator-points-ancient-megaflood?fbclid=IwAR3yk0pCJshvs8UZwGwkmmwAah5K5U9_0kUhUKCjAj3Sf4oqcIRtvAAiGLw

 

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. My experience as a freelance writer began in 2018 but I have been part of the Curiosmos family since mid-2020. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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