Water May Have Flowed on Mars When Homo Erectus Walked the Earth

By Eliza Strickland | March 2, 2009 5:53 pm

Mars alluvial fanWater may have been flowing over the surface of Mars as recently as 1.25 million years ago, according to a new study that examined gullies and fan-shaped deposits on the Martian landscape and determined that they were formed by melting ice. There probably wasn’t much water, explains lead researcher Samuel Schon: “You never end up with a pond that you can put goldfish in…. But you have transient melt water. You had ice that typically sublimates. But in these instances it melted, transported, and deposited sediment in the fan. It didn’t last long, but it happened” [BBC News].

NASA‘s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was able to distinguish evidence of water-borne sediments being carried down from high ground and deposited in low-lying alluvial fans [Telegraph]. While previous research had raised the possibility that Martian gullies were carved by avalanches of sand, the sharp new images discredit the theory of drifting sands, and the classic alluvial pattern of the delta does not fit with sedimentary shifts, Schon says. Jack Holt, a geophysicist at the University of Texas at Austin, agrees “melting an ice deposit caused by an ice age seems like a more feasible scenario” [Scientific American].

Researchers think that Mars may have had oceans several billions of years ago, and say that wobbles in Mars’s rotational axis may have caused drastic climate changes and ice ages throughout the planet’s history. To determine when the gullies and fan-shaped deposits formed, researchers studied four distinct lobes that made up the alluvial fan. Schon was able to determine that the lobes were created at different times and could tell which was the oldest because it was pockmarked with craters, while the younger lobes were left relatively unblemished. (The longer a surface has been exposed, the more meteorites have had a chance to leave their mark) [SPACE.com].

Researchers traced the pattern of pockmarks on the oldest lobe, and realized that the small craters were the result of a large meteorite strike about 60 miles away that kicked up a spray of rocks. In their report, to be published in the journal Geology, researchers say that the large, primary crater formed by the meteorite dates from 1.25 million years ago, indicating that the three unblemished lobes were formed by flowing water sometime after that.

Related Content:
80beats:New Evidence of Ancient Oceans on Mars
80beats: Martian Stones Suggest a More Recent Watery Past
80beats: Martian Gullies Were Formed by Liquid Water
80beats: 4 Billion Years Ago, Mars Was Wet and Wild

Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

  • http://Yahoo.com Seth

    Wow, that’s really something. One has to wonder if, at that time, perhaps some form of life existed in those waters. Truly fascinating find.

  • Ergo Sum

    It increases the possibility of finding deep subterranean life similar to that on earth which lives in extreme environments.

  • George

    * The Guardian(27 January 2009): It’s snowing on Mars…
    * Nat.Geographic (February 18, 2009): Liquid Water Recently Seen on Mars?…
    * ‘Antifreeze’ key to life on Mars?… An “antifreeze” chemical in Martian soil could allow pockets of life-sustaining liquid water to exist on the Red Planet, say scientists…
    * Blue Sky and Life on Mars!… NASA HIDES THE TRUE COLOUR OF MARS. Details:


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