Scientists have found evidence of an ancient Martian ocean.  This could mean we're closer to finding life on Mars.

Scientists have found evidence of an ancient Martian ocean. This could mean we’re closer to finding life on Mars.

Mars is known for its crimson, frozen terrain, but a recent discovery by a team of researchers provides new evidence that there was once an ancient ocean in the now-challenging Martian terrain.

This discovery is proof that Mars was, at one point in its history, quite different – ​​a hot, humid planet. Evidence for a 3.5 billion-year-old, 900-meter-thick shoreline in Mars’ northern hemisphere also hints at the possibility that life may have developed on the planet, which could be a boon for those who hope to find evidence of extraterrestrial life.

“This is one of the great scientific questions of humanity,” says Gregory Fiete, professor of physics at Northeastern. “It’s a matter of the present because we don’t yet know if there is life elsewhere outside of Earth.”

Portrait of Gregory Fiete, overlaid with equations and hexagons
Gregory Fiete, professor of physics. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

“We know that on Earth, life was born very early in the ocean, so at the same time it could have been born on Mars if Mars had an ocean. Whatever time the water was there, it is probably long enough according to the earth’s clock for life to have originated there.

In the scientific community, there has been an ongoing debate about whether the low-lying northern hemisphere of Mars could be the site of an ancient ocean. Using tools developed by the United States Geological Survey and map data from NASA and the Mars Orbiter laser altimeter, the team began mapping the planet’s northern zone. What they discovered were more than 6,500 kilometers of ridges, which they grouped into 20 systems.

By examining sediment accumulation, direction of erosion, and other stratigraphic evidence, the researchers were able to determine that these ridges were likely eroded river deltas or the remnants of an ancient Martian shoreline.

Head of Jacqueline McCleary, with projecting stars
Jacqueline McCleary, associate professor of physics. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

“The sediments in this basin are pouring in, slowly filling it over time, liquid water is building up, and that’s pretty conclusive evidence that this basin filled slowly over time and was an ocean of liquid water,” says Jaqueline McCleary, assistant professor of physics at Northeast.

At the same time, it provides pretty compelling evidence for a hot and humid period in Mars’ history. The slow, steady filling of this northern basin could not have happened if conditions on Mars were as they are now.

“That means the atmosphere was much thicker, so it would have trapped heat from the sun, so it was at a temperature where there could be liquid water,” Fiete says.

Given that current science indicates that life evolved in the oceans on Earth, Fiete says the presence of an ocean during a warm, humid period for Mars is promising evidence that some form of life may have also evolved. develop on Mars around the same time.

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