Did Mars once have water?
Scientists rejoiced this weekend as three key findings were released that seem to further confirm that life may have had a fighting chance for survival on Mars.
Among the findings released by scientists include the discovery of a massive ancient lake bed, the possibility that minerals identified by NASA’s Curiosity rover likely were delivered by water bubbling up from the subsurface, and an image released of a billion-year-old river bed.
The findings, when taken individually, are stunning. With NASA’s Curiosity rover preparing to drill into the Martian subsurface for the first time, scientists are likely more optimistic in their hope of discovering life than any previous point.
New photos released by NASA’s powerful Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show a massive crater that scientists now suspect could hold pockets of water. The images focused on the giant McLaughlin Crater, which is about 57 miles (92 kilometers) wide, and is now considered one of the most likely places where water might be discovered on Mars. While the crater is dry today, scientists say evidence of clay and other minerals, show that the lake bed could still hold life underground.
NASA’s Curiosity rover will likely begin drilling into the surface of Mars in the coming weeks. The nearly one-ton rover is the first to have the ability to drill far into the surface of Mars and analyze the contents of the soil. Speaking Friday, NASA scientists say the latest findings of an area dubbed Yellowknife Bay may hold the necessary pieces to discovering that water once flowed across the surface of Mars. The watery evidence comes in the form of water-bearing mineral veins and cross-bedded layering, according to NASA scientists.
Ancient River Bed
What evidence is more compelling of water’s past presence than a massive river bed? Scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA) announced Friday the discovery of an ancient river bed that seems indicate that Mars once had water flowing across the surface in a similar form to that seen here on Earth: rivers. ESA released 3D images of Mars’ Reull Vallis region, which shows a 932-mile-long river bed that runs from the planet’s Premethei Terra Highlands to the vast Hellas basin. The river bed is thought to be billions of years old, but it may still hold signs of past life, according to NASA.
While it now seems definitive that Mars once held water, it remains less clear if life once lived on the Red Planet. In the coming months it seems likely that scientists will reach a conclusion on whether water once flowed freely across Mars, and the focus will likely then shift towards solving the real question: did life once live on Mars?