No, we ain’t talking about lemonade, the drink. Neither is it about Beyoncé’s highly successful studio album. We’re talking about the scope and grandeur of the implications that arise from the recent findings on the Red Planet.
- Different observations on Mars indicate that the planet has a history of housing water bodies on the surface.
- Images taken by the ‘High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment’ cameras working on Mars hint towards liquid water flow from a few steep and warm slopes of the planet.
- The northern part of the Red Planet shows great evidence of having hosted Oceans of water.
- A recent study shows that about 30% to 99% of Martian water is either locked in minerals or buried deep in the crust.
- Recent findings not only indicate the possibility of life on Mars but also opens gateway for possible colonization in future.
Several studies about Mars have earlier proved the existence of water on our neighboring planet. But with the absence of any concrete evidence of actual water on the surface, it was assumed that the water on Mars is limited to that stored as ice on the polar regions, or that which has been lost to space. But with recent Martian studies, scientists assume that there might be oceans worth of water buried under the surface of Mars. The findings, although preliminary, are quite concrete evidentially. Moreover, the scope of imagination and implications of this knowledge for mankind’s terraforming dreams on the Red Planet are immense.
Research and Evidence: Water on Mars
The neighboring Red Planet in the solar family has been the center of various researches and space programs for decades. Different observations on Mars have indicated that the planet houses water bodies on the surface, and has been for years. Having a warm atmosphere, it is assumed that the planet might have housed microorganisms in some regions. But, due to the lesser gravitational pull and a thinner atmosphere, along with solar radiation, most of the water evaporated and escaped into space.
Evidence of the presence of water on this Red Planet first came into light back in 2000, when the gullies were first discovered on the planet, hinting at a liquid origin.
Some of the images taken by the ‘High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment’ (HiRISE) cameras working on Mars hinted towards some liquid water flow from a few steep and warm slopes of the planet. Types of hydrated salts have also been found on the planet’s surface in some of the previous studies. Liquid water also appeared to be trapped within the ice caps in the polar region of Mars, other than the rocks. The Martian crust has also been hiding frozen water under its surface as it appears from several test results. A slab of ice as huge as the combined area of Texas and California had been discovered by the scientists located between the north pole and equator of Mars. It is assumed that water might be found on other regions of Mars as well as in future studies.
Watch: Water ‘Trapped’ inside Mars
Several images sent by the Mars Express spacecraft of the European Space Agency (ESA) have shown evidence of ice sheets in the shadowy and cooler crater bottoms of the planet. This indicates the presence of water under favorable circumstances. But all these speculations had reached a rather dry end when scientists revealed that the possible liquid flow on the Martian slopes could have been only of granular flows formed by the movement of dust and sand on the planet’s atmosphere.
Martian Oasis and Landforms
From the beginning of the Mars Expedition, scientists have been hopeful about the presence of water on the Martian surface. Mariner 9, the first spacecraft to orbit Mars in 1971, hinted at the existence of Martian water by sending pictures of canyons and riverbeds. Later the images sent by the United States’s first Mars mission spacecraft Viking Orbiters strengthened the idea that the landforms on the Martian surface may have formed by running water. Several studies during the ’90s by NASA and ESA found evidence of ancient hot springs and patches of sustained precipitation. Scientists of ESA and NASA were also able to study Martian rocks ejected from the planet’s interior. Several minerals have been found on these rocks that suggested the presence of water on the planet. In August 2012, a Mars Rover found an ancient river bed that was most exposed to liquid water around a billion years ago.
Scientists have studied the ancient Martian landforms during various Mars Expeditions in a historical context. Even though no liquid water has been found on the Martian River beds, they provide some great help while studying the geological evolution of this plant. The northern part of the planet shows some great evidence of hosting Oceans once upon a time. Other riverbeds and gullies on the Martian surface also indicate the presence of liquid water on this planet. Experts believe that the Mt. Sharp on Mars was formed by the sedimentary deposits in a lake bed several millions of years ago. Landforms with mud and clays have also been found on Mars indicating the presence of large water bodies on this planet.
Theories based on Latest Findings
All the evidence found about the Martian water indicates the presence over a few million years ago. Mars used to host enough water to cover the entire surface with a depth of 100 to 1,500 meters. However, the Red Planet has lost its wet and warm atmosphere now, leaving it cold and dry. Earlier scientists thought that the solar wind and solar radiation stripped this planet of its air and water after Mars lost its protective magnetic field. But according to recent researches, there could be some liquid water left on the planet even today. Data from the Mission MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) by NASA and Mars Express orbiter by ESA suggest that with Mars’ evaporation rate from its atmosphere, the planet will get rid of global ocean worth of water in only 4.5 billion years. With data acquired from several rovers and spacecraft orbiting Mars, scientists have built a model that gives a fair idea of how much water was there initially on the planet and the amount lost over time into space. They estimate the amount of lost water by analyzing the hydrogen levels in rocks and the atmosphere.
To analyze the amount of water, researchers compare the levels of light hydrogen atoms with the heavier deuterium atoms (the isotope of hydrogen with one neutron within its nucleus) present in the Martian rock samples. As water molecules consist of two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom, the estimated hydrogen loss helps the researchers to find the amount of water that disappeared due to solar radiation and solar wind. However, the recent study shows about 30% to 99% of Martian water is either locked in the minerals or buried deep in the planet’s crust. The remaining water evaporated into space, explaining the hydrogen-deuterium ratio found on the planet. This research also suggests that the Red Planet lost about 40% to 95% of water during the Noachian period (4.1 to 3.7 billion years ago).
The present water level was reached about 3 billion years ago. Eva Scheller, a planetary scientist at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena revealed that the uncertainty over the estimated martian water level under the planet’s crust exists as we are yet to know the rate of water loss on the planet. Nevertheless, NASA scientists are hopeful that their Perseverance Rover will be successful to collect some data about this hidden water treasure as this rover will be working on the most ancient and unexplored parts of the planet.
Future Possibilities with the Newfound Knowledge
Humans are searching for a possible home planet for mankind for years. With the booming rate of population and the gradual loss of resources, scientists are even more eager to get a positive result now than ever before. Life was first formed in the ocean water on Earth. The successful discovery of liquid water can surely be a big breakthrough for researchers any day. This will not only indicate the possibility of life on the Red Planet but will also open a gateway for a possible human colony in the future. Also, if scientists discover any form of life on the planet, it will give us the scope to learn about forms of life outside earth under different gravitational and weather circumstances.