NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has discovered additional evidence suggesting that life may have existed on Mars in the distant past.
A team of researchers examining data collected by NASA’s curiosity have deduced that the planet in ancient times had a huge network of rivers flowing with life-giving water. They have published their findings in Geophysical Research Letters.
“We’re finding evidence that Mars was likely a planet of rivers,” said the research’s lead author, Benjamin Cardenas, a geoscientist at Penn State University.
Cardenas and his team reached this conclusion after analysing a combination of images from the Curiosity rover, scans of sedimentary rock beneath the Gulf of Mexico on Earth and several computer simulations.
Using these, they identified the ancient, eroded remnants of rivers in many Mars craters.
Curiosity rover identified specific landforms called bench-and-nose features; here steep and shallow slopes are called ‘benches,’ while shortened ridges are called ‘noses’.
They form when sedimentary material laid down in channels by rivers are subsequently eroded by prevailing winds. These landforms suggest that rivers were more widespread than thought earlier.
Why is this important?
On our planet Earth, rivers are an indispensable source of chemical, nutrient and sediment cycles, all of which are indispensable for life. This fresh discovery provides further proof of ancient rivers and could help in humanity’s search for signs of life on the red planet.
As Cardenas puts it: “Our research indicates that Mars could have had far more rivers than previously believed, which certainly paints a more optimistic view of ancient life on Mars.”
“It offers a vision of Mars, where most of the planet once had the right condition for life,” he remarked.
Is the knowledge of Mars rivers new?
No, it isn’t. We have known about Mars’ rivers since Mariner 9, the first spacecraft to orbit the red planet, sent back images which were clicked back in 1971. The images showed dried-up river channels and floodplains on Mars’s surface.
Mars orbiters and rovers have also identified ridges that were probably formed by sediment in river channels billions of years ago.
Multiple Mars rovers have also found mineralogical evidence, including sulfur-containing compounds like jarosite that form in water.